Monday, December 23, 2013

OPEN-FACED EGG, TOMATO, AND CHEESE SANDWICHES


















Breakfast sandwiches...I never really saw the appeal, but then I haven’t been wild about eggs until recently. Now an egg on toast sounds cozy and lovely to me—for dinner. An egg on toast with mustard, melted cheddar, and tomato sounds even better. You probably don’t even need a recipe for that, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me without this post from Everybody Likes Sandwiches via Poppytalk. I had some fat sourdough English muffins from a neighborhood restaurant, La Grande Orange, each half just the right size to hold a slice of tomato and an egg comfortably (suddenly this breakfast sandwich thing is making sense). A quick egg-frying and broiler-toasting later, and you’ve got a crispy-gooey delight for any time of day. The cheese that oozes off the bread and browns on the baking sheet is my favorite part. I also love the way the egg yolks get just a little more solid in the oven—still soft, but more gelatinous and less runny. Throw some salad or roasted asparagus on the side and peel an orange to round out your lazy dinner.

1 large tomato, thickly sliced
2 large, thick slices of rustic bread or 2 sturdy split English muffins
2-4 thick slices sharp cheddar cheese (or whatever cheese you prefer, as long as it melts well—Edam and Harvati are also good options)
Dijon mustard to taste
Butter
2-4 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Run the bread under the broiler for a few minutes until lightly toasted (sometimes I find it easier to just use a toaster for this).

3. Place the bread on a baking sheet. Spread mustard over the bread, then add the tomatoes and cheese (enough to cover the whole surface of the bread). Place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, just until cheese is melted.

4. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add enough butter (1 tablespoon or less) to just coat the bottom of the pan when it melts. When the butter starts to bubble, crack in the eggs and cook until whites are set on the bottom.

5. Slide the eggs on top of the toast (one per English muffin, or one to two per slice of bread depending on the size) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Return to the broiler for 30 seconds or so, just until the top of the white is fully set and the yolk appears cloudy (or go for a full minute if you want your yolks solid).

Serves: 2
Time: 15 minutes
Leftover potential: No. Eat immediately and make more later.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

TEX-MEX BEEF AND BEAN ENCHILADAS WITH CHILI GRAVY


















I was craving chili with all the fixings. A pointed out that it was over 90 degrees outside (this was back in September), hardly the ideal weather for simmering a hot pot for several hours on the stove. A countered with a request for beef tacos. I pointed out that I needed leftovers to take to work, and tacos are very annoying to transport because I have to store each component in a separate container and assemble them all at my desk. We needed a compromise, something spicy and beefy but not overly heavy, something compact and portable. Enchiladas were the perfect solution.

It turns out that I’m such a rube of a northern Midwesterner that I didn’t know authentic enchilada sauce doesn’t have tomatoes in it. I guess I always assumed that’s what made it red—and in Minnesota in the 1980s, that may have been the case. (My enchilada experience is not vast, since I avoided them for most of my youth because they were usually made with corn tortillas, which I hated.) Poking around online for enchilada recipes, however, I soon learned from Homesick Texan that genuine Tex-Mex sauce is essentially a gravy that starts with a roux, spiked with plenty of chili powder and thinned it with broth. Easy done. I wasn’t sure I liked it when I tasted it on its own, but it was awesome when baked into the enchiladas, deep and dark and smoky. (I vaguely recall adding some chipotle chili powder into the mix to enhance the smokiness.) Even if the filling I used here doesn’t sound good to you, you should still try this sauce and swap it into the enchilada recipe of your choice—it’s one of those amazing kitchen tricks that goes from “I’m not sure this is going to work…” to “I can’t believe I made that!” in a few minutes flat.

I chose a recipe from Confections of a Foodie Bride that combined the chili gravy with a straightforward spiced-beef filling, but cut the meatiness with some beans. Refried beans aren’t my favorite (although they’re growing on me), but they melt into the background here and create a wonderful creamy, saucy consistency. It was my first time buying canned ones, but it turns out Trader Joe’s fat-free refried beans are pretty darn good, at least for this purpose.

Still thinking of chili and tacos, and wanting to make things a bit healthier and more colorful since it was still technically summer, I topped the enchiladas generously with shredded lettuce and a pico-de-gallo-type salad made of cherry tomatoes, avocado, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. Probably not authentic, but excellent all the same.

Not surprisingly, the enchiladas were delicious and are destined to become a repeat favorite. Apparently A and I need to disagree about what to eat more often, if it results in this type of tasty compromise.

Chili gravy:
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth
Enchiladas:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 14 ounce-can refried beans
16-20 small flour tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded

1. To make the chili gravy, heat the ¼ cup oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes until the roux is light brown.

2. Add the pepper, salt, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chili powder and continue to cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

3. Add broth slowly, stirring while the sauce thickens.

4. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes while you make the enchilada filling.

5. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef to the pan, breaking up with a spoon, and cook thoroughly. Drain excess grease from the meat and set the meat aside.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet and add onions, cooking until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

7. Return cooked beef to the pan and stir in chili powder and cumin. Stir in the refried beans and ½ can of water. Stir until smooth and cook until bubbly.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While it heats, put ½ cup of chili gravy into a 9x13 baking pan and spread it evenly.

9. Add ¼ to ⅓ cup beef mixture to the center of a tortilla and top with a pinch of cheese. Roll up and place seam side down in the pan. Repeat until all the beef mixture is used. Pour remaining chili gravy over the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.

10. Bake 12-15 minutes in the oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve unadorned or with garnishes of your choice (e.g., cilantro, green onions, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado).

Serves: 8-10 (2 enchiladas each)
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

ROASTED STRAWBERRY AND TOASTED COCONUT POPSICLES


















I know, it’s not strawberry season for most of you, and it’s not popsicle weather either, and this picture is kinda crappy. (Popsicles turn out to be surprisingly difficult to photograph, especially when they’re melting—it actually was popsicle weather way back when I made these—and I really want to eat the subject. Hunger is my number-one obstacle to becoming a better food photographer.) But I had to share, because popsicles! I made them! And they were delicious. So you’ll just have to bookmark this for next summer.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make pudding pops (from Jell-O boxed pudding mix; pistachio was my favorite) in Tupperware molds. (These, to be precise.) Periodically I’ve seen fancy foodie popsicle recipes on blogs and in magazines and thought about making them, but it never seemed worth buying special equipment for. Popsicles are refreshing and all, but I’ll happily pass them over for ice cream. Then I won some popsicle molds (these, to be precise) in some random departmental contest at my old job…and promptly shoved them into a deep back corner of the cupboard and forgot about them for nearly a year, until I spotted this recipe at Joy the Baker. Roasted strawberries and toasted coconut? Hold the damn phone.

Why didn’t anyone tell me popsicles could be this good? They’re a snap to make but don’t taste like anything you can buy at the store: creamy coconut milk with toasty coconut shreds, rich red strawberry concentrated via roasting, not too much sweetness and just a hint of lime for contrast. This immediately launched a popsicle obsession for me, but none of the other recipes I’ve tried so far have held a candle to this one.

Trader Joe’s only sells a light coconut milk, which works well for most uses but would have been too icy when frozen, so I tried TJ’s coconut cream instead and it was fantastic for this purpose, thick and rich with a purer flavor than any other coconut milk I’ve had. I also used TJ’s shredded coconut, which is only mildly sweetened, far less sugary than the Baker’s stuff. I daresay you could use straight-up unsweetened if you wanted. I had to make this in two half-batches because I only have six popsicle molds, but it was no big deal—I made the full amount of roasted strawberry puree and stored half of it in a sealed container in the fridge for a few days, where it held up just fine until I was ready to make the other popsicles, at which point I concocted the rest of the coconut mixture.

1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lime, divided
1 (15-ounce) can whole-fat coconut milk or coconut cream, well shaken
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle coconut onto a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes (keep a close eye on it). Remove from oven and place coconut in a small bowl to cool.

2. Place strawberries on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to roast until fragrant and soft, about 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the strawberries to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and juice of half a lime. Blend until smooth.

3. In a small bowl, stir together coconut milk, remaining lime juice, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and vanilla extract. Stir the toasted coconut into the milk mixture.

4. Dollop a spoonful of strawberry into the bottom of each popsicle mold. Stir coconut milk and add to the popsicle molds, filling them about 2/3 full. Spoon more strawberry into each mold and top with remaining coconut milk.

5. Add popsicle mold sticks and lids. Freeze for at least 6 hours before serving.

Yields: About 10 popsicles
Time: 40 minutes (plus 6 hours to chill)
Leftover potential: Of course. Ours were eaten within a week, but they should keep in the freezer as long as you like (within reason).

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

STEAK SANDWICHES WITH PICKLED ONION AND HERB AIOLI


















I’m determined to get caught up with this thing, which means you’re going to have to put up with nonseasonal recipes for a little while longer. This one is from Cooking Light, and while it seems pretty plain at first glance—bread, meat, greens, onion, and mayo—it definitely adds up to more than the sum of its parts. I usually find steak monotonous, but the peppery arugula, sweet and briny onions, and citrusy herbed aioli jazz things up. The aioli is actually my favorite part, and I say this as a recovering mayonnaise hater of long standing. To me, concocting my own mayo makes all the difference, and when you spike it with garlic, herbs and extra lemon, it’s irresistible. I knew this recipe would be a surefire hit with A, who loves red meat and sandwiches in equal measure, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it too, and as a bonus it wasn't hard to throw together. I’ve made it twice already, and it’s likely to keep popping up on our menu through all seasons.

I made a few tweaks to the original recipe. I always find myself corrupting the finicky purity of Cooking Light recipes, but my only less-healthy change here was to add salt to the onion pickling mixture, because I think pickles should be at least somewhat salty. (I ahbor sweet pickles, so the 2 tablespoons of sugar seemed excessive to me, but I went with it as written and while I wouldn’t snack on the onions by themselves, they really work on the sandwich, their sweetness offset by the other ingredients.) Other than that, I merely swapped in basil, which seems more appropriately summery, for the tarragon, which I dislike. And it seemed a bit awkward to make one giant sandwich and then slice it into fourths—plus I wanted to save half of the food for leftovers the next day—so instead I just cut the bread into fourths to begin with and assembled the sandwiches separately.

¼ cup water
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup canola mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound flank steak, trimmed
1½ teaspoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 12-ounce French baguette
1 cup arugula leaves

1. Combine first three ingredients plus 1 teaspoon salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high 2 minutes or until boiling. Stir in onion. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

3. Combine mayonnaise and next four ingredients (through garlic). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Rub steak evenly with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place steak on grill rack; grill 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from grill; let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak across the grain into thin slices.

5. Cut baguette in fourths crosswise, then cut the pieces in half lengthwise. Place bread, cut sides down, on grill rack; grill 1 minute or until toasted.

6. Drain onion mixture and discard liquid. Arrange one-quarter of the steak evenly over each of the four bottom baguette pieces; top evenly with onion and arugula. Spread mayonnaise mixture over cut side of each top baguette piece and place the top pieces on the sandwiches.

Serves: 4
Time: 35 minutes
Leftover potential: OK, if all components are stored separately and only assembled just before eating.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

ONE-PAN FARRO WITH TOMATOES


















I couldn’t definitively declare that I liked farro until I successfully prepared it in a context that didn’t involve mushrooms. When this recipe appeared at Smitten Kitchen, it seemed like the perfect opportunity: colorful, summery, bright with tomato and basil, and about as far from earthy brown mushrooms as you can get. As a bonus, it’s a nifty cooking method—just throw the ingredients into a pot and boil for 30 minutes, end of story. I had my doubts that something so easy and breezy could really result in deep and complex flavors, but I was happy to be proven wrong. The onions and tomatoes break down into a savory sauce that makes the farro sing.

The first time, I followed the Smitten Kitchen directions exactly and it was good. Then I spotted another spin on the same dish at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, mostly the same but with the quantities slightly increased (which appealed to me because the original recipe had yielded a slightly awkward three main-dish servings, and especially after discovering that the leftovers tasted even better the next day, I prefer to have at least four) and with arugula instead of basil (which appealed to me because I love arugula and because if I can cram enough vegetables into the main dish I don’t have to bother with making a side salad). I made a few tweaks, upping the garlic and adding back in the basil. Matters were slightly complicated by the fact that I’d accidentally bought Trader Joe’s 10-Minute Farro, which has already been parboiled and which I feared would become disgustingly mushy if subjected to the 30-minute boil needed to cook off all the liquid the recipe calls for. (Online opinions seem divided on the TJ’s farro, with many loving it but others finding it no match for the regular stuff.) I decided to make the best of it by skipping the presoak and forging ahead as written—and the farro turned out perfectly, just as chewy as ever, so I’m tempted to keep using the TJ’s version, especially since it comes in convenient 1½-cup bags, exactly the quantity needed for this recipe. I served it with a poached egg on top and it was even more heavenly.

This really is a miraculous recipe, a wholesome weeknight meal that coaxes big taste out of simple ingredients. And if you haven’t tried farro before, this may be the way to do it: easy, no fuss, with familiar elements that transform into something even better.

Note, August 2016: I value this as a hearty vegetarian entree, but in an effort to make it more appealing to A, I have tried it with Italian sausage (about 8 ounces, chicken or pork, crumbled and browned in a separate skillet, drained, and added to the farro with the arugula and Parmesan in Step 3) and I gotta say it’s a pretty delicious variation.

3 cups water
1½ cups semi-pearled farro
1 medium yellow onion, quartered and sliced thinly
2 large cloves garlic, halved and sliced thinly
4 cups (2 pints) halved grape or cherry tomatoes
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra to taste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra to taste
2 cups baby arugula
1 handful basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak for at least 5-10 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. (Skip the soaking if using 10-minute farro.)

2. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the farro. Bring uncovered pan to a boil. Set a timer for 30 minutes and reduce heat to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. When the timer rings, the farro should be perfectly cooked (tender but still a bit chewy) and the liquid should be mostly absorbed.

3. Add the arugula and Parmesan; stir to combine and to wilt the arugula.

4. Transfer to serving bowls, drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and sprinkle with basil and additional Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Great; tastes even better the next day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CHICKEN WITH PROSCIUTTO, FONTINA, AND ARUGULA



















I hope I don’t have to say much to convince you (unless you’re vegan) that crispy breaded chicken topped with ham, cheese, and mustardy, vinegary greens is a Good Thing. This is just the type of straightforward but not dumbed-down weeknight recipe I’m always on the lookout for, and as soon as I came across it at Elly Says Opa, I knew it would be a slam-dunk with both me (quick, easy, vegetable included) and A (two kinds of meat in one dish = score). The pan-fried chicken, creamy cheese, and salty pork veer toward luxurious comfort, and but the fresh, peppery arugula reins it back in. It’s basically a meal in itself, main dish and salad rolled into one, although some roasted potatoes on the side definitely wouldn’t hurt anything.

Apparently the original recipe called for Brie, which I do love, but I second this adaptation’s substitution of Fontina, an equally good melter, less unctuous and with a nice nutty flavor that actually has a bit more character than Brie. I made no real changes except that I’m a bit more generous with the arugula (at least on my own servings…why not fill the plate?) and a bit stingier with the panko. The first time I made th

is, I dutifully filled my shallow bowl with 1 cup panko, breaded my chicken, and still had half of it left, now contaminated with raw chicken juice, that I had to throw away. Now I start with 1 cup panko in the bowl and add more as needed midway through the breading process if the level dips too low.

Both A and I thought that it might make this even better if the prosciutto could be warmed somehow. Next time I might try either crisping it up briefly in a separate dry pan before placing it atop the chicken, or adding it right after the cheese and then moving the whole shebang (in my cast-iron skillet) to the oven for a brief stint under the broiler, which would cook the prosciutto and melt the cheese in one fell swoop (but possibly dry out the chicken?). I’ll keep you posted, but don’t wait that long to make this—no matter what, it’s a keeper.

1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
6 ounces baby arugula
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1-2 cups panko breadcrumbs (start with 1 and add more as needed)
4 chicken breasts (4-5 ounces apiece), pounded to ¼-inch thickness
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
8 thin slices prosciutto

1. Whisk the vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste together in a large bowl. Slowly add 2 tablespoons olive oil while whisking, and mix until emulsified.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and then add the butter and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. While the pan is heating, place the flour, eggs, and panko in three separate shallow bowls. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper on each side.

3. Once the butter is melted and sizzling in the pan, dredge a piece of chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess. Dip into the egg, letting excess drip off, and then dredge both sides in the panko, being sure to coat the chicken completely. Add to the pan and repeat with remaining chicken.

4. Saute chicken until golden brown on one side and then flip and saute until browned and cooked through. During the last minute, place the Fontina on top of the chicken so it begins to melt.

5. Add the arugula to the bowl with the salad dressing and toss to coat. Plate the chicken and top each piece with two slices of prosciutto and one-fourth of the arugula salad.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Decent; for leftover servings, store the arugula, dressing and chicken separately, assembling only when ready to eat.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

SOUTHWEST SCRAMBLE


















This is another of those look-how-far-I’ve-come posts, because I used to detest the idea of eggs with salsa. Like, it actually turned my stomach. Perhaps because I grew up in the Midwest in the 1980s, where the salsa was Pace and the eggs were most likely dry and overcooked. (As I’ve previously mentioned, I hated corn tortillas, too.) I don’t know whether to credit my maturing palate or expanding horizons, but after all these years I finally Get It where huevos rancheros and breakfast tacos/quesadillas/burritos are concerned. First I discovered good tortillas and salsa, and then I became downright egg-obsessed, and then finally I started craving them all together.

I’d been wanting to try my hand at migas or chilaquiles for a while, since I always seem to have leftover corn tortillas lurking in the fridge, and then one day I saw this variation on the concept at Budget Bytes, which throws in enough black beans and salsa and cilantro to totally qualify as dinner in my book (in fact, you’ll notice I’ve dropped the “breakfast” part of the title). The recipe calls for corn chips, but I decided to take things up a notch and bake my own from those troublesome spare tortillas. I’m sure it’s good enough with storebought corn chips, and it does feel kind of silly to spend 20 minutes hardening up some tortillas only to turn around and soften them up again with salsa and eggs and cheese the next moment, but I love the flavor and chewy (rather than soggy) texture the homemade chips impart.

But then, I love everything about this recipe. Let’s face it, it’s basically the lovechild of scrambled eggs and nachos. It’s warm and homey and soft and cheesy, but not heavy, and chock-full enough of protein to make a satisfying meal. It’s incredibly quick and easy, it’s simple but flavorful, I usually have the ingredients on hand already, and it makes surprisingly good leftovers. Because the eggs are scrambled slowly and carefully, they don’t dry out or toughen up, even when reheated the next day. It’s become my comfort-food default, and I’ve probably cooked it half a dozen times in the few months since I first tried it. I’ve made it as lazy single-lady fare while A was out of town, eating the leftovers all week long. I’ve made it just after returning from vacation, when the fridge was empty and I only had the time and energy to pick up a few things at the store. I’ve made it when I’m too stressed out for anything else, when I have salsa or tortillas to use up (and once, with leftover tomatillo salsa verde, an excellent variation), or just when I’m hungry for it, which seems to be often. (I’m actually making it for dinner tonight, in about an hour.) I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m not sure I could ever get tired of it. Who knew that eggs plus salsa could someday become one of my favorite foods?

6 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 cups tortilla chips (I recommend baking your own)
1 cup salsa, plus extra for serving if desired
1 cup shredded cheddar or pepper Jack cheese
1 generous handful chopped fresh cilantro
2 or 3 scallions, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Crack the eggs into a large bowl and lightly whisk them.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Pour in the eggs and let them cook slowly. As the bottom layer begins to set, use a spatula to drag the outside edges in toward the center, allowing the uncooked egg to run back into the empty space. Continue to gently move the eggs around in the skillet in this manner until they are about 75 percent set; they should still be moist, but in large pieces. (They will continue to cook as you add other ingredients, so make sure not to overcook them now.) Season the eggs with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the drained beans and tortilla chips to the skillet. Gently fold them into the eggs, breaking the tortilla strips into smaller pieces as you go. Spoon one cup of salsa over top of the egg mixture and then sprinkle the shredded cheese over top.

4. Place a lid on the skillet and turn the heat up to medium. Allow the skillet to heat for 5 minutes, or until mostly heated through. Remove the lid and gently fold the ingredients in the skillet, so that the cheese gets a little mixed in and melts slightly. Sprinkle the cilantro and scallions over the top, and serve with additional salsa if desired.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

BAKED TORTILLA CHIPS


















Making my own tortilla chips is exactly the kind of fussy kitchen experiment I didn’t think I had time for anymore. Now that I’m back in an office for 40 hours a week (no more cozy telecommuting days while bread dough rose on the counter or beans simmered on the stove) and working a faster-paced job that leaves me drained by the time evening rolls around, I’m trying to get back to basics with quicker, less ambitious weekday meals that make plenty of leftovers and can hit the table before 8 p.m. But when you find yourself with a giant stack of tortillas getting stale in the fridge, you have to do something—and it turns out that, after immersion-blender mayonnaise, this is about the easiest DIY I’ve ever tried.

The last time we stopped by the Mexican market to get fresh corn tortillas for fish tacos, they were out of our usual 24-count bags. All that remained were the massive “family size” packages, easily eight inches tall. They still only cost a couple of bucks, so we rolled with it. The leftover tortillas get too dry for making tacos after a couple of days, but they remain perfectly good for tortilla soup, tostadas, and quesadillas. After a couple of weeks, however, despite our best efforts, we barely seemed to have made a dent in the pile, so I consulted the Internet and found this nifty procedure at The Kitchn for making baked tortilla chips.

And really, it couldn’t be any simpler. Coat baking sheets and tortillas with oil, sprinkle with salt, bake until crisp. You can use cooking spray if you want to make it even easier; I usually do that on the baking sheets, but I don’t think it gives even enough coverage on the tortillas themselves, so I prefer to use my silicon pastry brush. It takes surprisingly little oil, so you might even consider this downright healthy—if you can actually manage not to gobble up every warm, salty, crispy morsel right out of the oven. The first time I made these I was so impressed that they actually turned out like real tortilla chips that A and I stood over the baking sheets and happily snacked away…until I realized I’d eaten the equivalent of about six tortillas in one sitting. Be forewarned, the texture is a bit different than storebought/fried chips, less shatteringly crispy and with a little bit of chew, especially when they’re still warm. You can dry them out by leaving them in the oven with the heat off after baking, but I’ve found that can almost make them too crunchy for me, at least with the tortillas I've been using. Because they’re a bit sturdier, though, it makes them great for nachos, dipping, and so forth. (Next time I post I’ll share with you a recipe I used them in that knocked my socks right off.) And the flavor is excellent.

You can do this in any quantity you like. I’ve found that 10 to 12 corn tortillas yields the right number of chips to cover two of my large baking sheets in a single layer (and two sheets is all that fits into my oven at one time). Even at that rate, it took us six batches or (over the course of several weeks) so to get through all our leftover tortillas. Luckily, this recipe works just fine with older tortillas—the chips maybe get a bit denser in texture, but the flavor is unaffected. Of course, now that we’ve finally finished off the bag, I find myself craving them again, so there’s probably a trip to the Mexican market in my near future. I can see that this is going to become a vicious—but delicious—circle.

Good-quality corn tortillas
Neutral vegetable oil, like grapeseed or canola
Coarse salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour a tablespoon or so of oil into a bowl. Brush a thin coating onto one or two baking sheets and set aside.

2. Place one tortilla on a cutting board and brush the top with a light layer of oil. (You don’t need a lot of oil, but make sure it’s spread evenly across the entire surface, including the edges.) Place another tortilla on top of the oiled one and brush its top with oil. Continue until all your tortillas are oiled and stacked in one pile.

3. Cut your tortilla stack in half. Cut one of the halves in half and cut each of those halves in half again, forming wedges. Repeat with other side, so you have eight stacks of tortilla wedges.

4. Arrange the tortilla wedges in a single layer on the baking sheets (don’t overlap them or they won’t get crisp), un-oiled sides facing down so that they have contact with the oil on the tray. Sprinkle a pinch or two of coarse salt evenly over the tops.

5. Place the trays in the oven and bake for 8 to 12 minutes. Check your chips at 8 minutes and rotate your pans. The chips are done when the edges are crisp and dry and slightly lifted from the tray. They should be a few shades darker, though not completely browned. The chips will still be slightly flexible in the middle, but they will crisp further as they cool. If you want crispier chips, turn the oven off and let them sit in there until they dry out a bit more, from 10 to 60 minutes.

6. Remove trays from the oven and let cool slightly.

Yield: Whatever quantity you like.
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: These are best when fresh, but can be stored (after cooling) in an airtight container for several days.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

FUNKY MONKEY BAKED OATMEAL


















I feel like I preface every banana-related post with a disclaimer that I don’t really like bananas, but…I do have 10 (now 11) banana recipes on this site, so perhaps I protest too much. I certainly don’t like them enough to be a particular fan of Chunky Monkey ice cream or the peanut-butter-and-banana combo and its various “fat Elvis” iterations. (I am, however, a fan of both actual monkeys and actual Elvis, so that’s something.) What I do like is peanut butter, and I had been wondering for a while, in the midst of my baked oatmeal mania, if a peanut butter version could work. And I know banana adds a nice tenderness to baked goods, and I love coconut, and I certainly won’t turn down chocolate—even if I don’t normally eat it for breakfast—so when I saw this recipe at Budget Bytes (my go-to source for oatmeal inspiration), I knew I had to at least give it a shot.

I usually avoid overly sweet foods in the morning—no donuts or coffee cake or cinnamon rolls for me—and this was definitely richer and more indulgent-seeming than my usual fare. But it’s not as sweet as I expected, in fact not actually that sweet at all, except that it’s a logical disconnect for me to be enjoying chocolate at 8 a.m. (The occasional chocolate chip studded into each bite doesn’t seem too weird, but when I got to the bottom of the bowl and essentially had chocolate milk, it did feel like I was getting away with something.) It is, of course, delicious, and there’s a reason these are all classic flavor pairings. As an occasional “special treat” breakfast, it will definitely have a place in my regular oatmeal rotation. (I find it’s an especially welcome balm for the soul during my extra-hormonal week of the month.) And unlike a pastry or sugary cereal, it keeps me full and energized until lunchtime.
The first time I made this I was slightly dismayed because I couldn’t really pick up much peanut butter flavor, so the second time I increased the quantity to ⅓ cup and that seemed perfect. Natural PB is best, but if you only have the sweetened stuff, just leave out the brown sugar. Same thing with the coconut—I only had the big unsweetened flakes on hand and didn’t feel like making a special trip to the Whole Foods bulk section for the unsweetened shredded, but Trader Joe’s has a shredded coconut that is way less sweet than the tooth-aching Baker’s kind, and that worked just fine; but if you do find yourself with the Baker’s, just cut out the brown sugar and all should be well.
I keep thinking it would be cool to use cocoa instead of chocolate chips to make the whole thing feel even less desserty, so that the oatmeal itself was chocolate-flavored instead of having pieces of chocolate in it, but I don’t know if I want to mess around with that when this is already so good.

P.S. November 2013: Does this just sound too decadent for your everyday breakfast? I recently tried this as just a PB-banana version and it was excellent. Follow the recipe below, but use a generous 1/3 cup peanut butter and omit the chocolate chips and coconut.
P.P.S. February 2015: If you want a subtler chocolate presence, I have discovered that mini-chips are the perfect solution, scattering the chocolate more evenly throughout the oatmeal instead of in big chunks. 

3-4 medium bananas
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼-⅓ cup natural peanut butter (unsweetened; salted OK)
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
2½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
⅓ cup semisweet chocolate chips
⅓ cup shredded coconut (unsweetened or lightly sweetened)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Mash the bananas with a fork until they make a smooth puree (or you can leave it a bit chunky if you prefer that). Start with just three bananas and add another if needed to make 1½ cups. (If you’re short a little banana, make up the difference by using the corresponding amount of extra milk.)
  3. Add the mashed bananas to a large bowl. If your peanut butter is firm, warm it slightly in the microwave so that it is more fluid and can mix in more easily. Add the peanut butter, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt to the bowl. Whisk these ingredients together until smooth. Add the milk and whisk again.
  4. Add the dry oats, chocolate chips, and shredded coconut to the bowl. Stir everything together until evenly combined. Lightly coat the inside of an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish with nonstick spray (I like to use coconut oil spray for this). Pour the oat mixture into the casserole dish and bake for 45 minutes, or until browned and firm.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great. Keep in a covered dish, scoop out a serving each morning, and reheat it in the microwave. Break it up a little with a spoon and pour cold milk over the top.

Monday, August 05, 2013

FARRO SALAD WITH ROASTED MUSHROOMS AND PARMESAN


















There are advantages and disadvantages to being so far behind on this blog. Mostly disadvantages. It bothers me all the time, actually. I can’t help but feel oppressed by a long to-do list, and besides, Bookcook is an important record-keeping method for me, so it’s inconvenient when it’s not up to date. Not to mention that there are things I really, really want to tell you about. (“You” being the whole three or four people who are still bearing with me at this point.) And when I do go to write a post, often it’s been so long since I made the recipe that I can barely remember the details.
But on the plus side, the long lag time does provide perspective. For example, it’s been so many months since I first discovered this recipe that I’ve made it three times already. That means it’s been thoroughly tested and even improved upon for you. I can now confidently attest that it is both dead easy and incredibly delicious—in fact, it’s one of my new favorite recipes. I’m even jumping it ahead in the queue because I’m so excited to share it with you. I may actually be a teeny bit obsessed with it; just typing these words has made me start thinking I need to add it to next week’s menu.
You might recall that my first attempt at farro was in a salad, and I did not like it. Luckily, farro was redeemed for me in this beef and mushroom soup. Since I enjoyed that so much, I thought this salad from Food 52 wouldn’t be too much more of a stretch, and I do think there’s something about the earthiness of farro and mushrooms that makes them go extra well together. They also have a similarly addictive chewy texture here—roasting the mushrooms is a great touch. I actually liked them so much I doubled the quantity from the original recipe and feel it’s just the right balance, about half mushroom and half farro. The salad is studded with little cubes of Parmesan, and while I’d never had that cheese in such big pieces before (pretty much only shredded and shaved), it adds these wonderful pops of salty nuttiness. All this umami is lightened by lemon juice and parsley (my favorite herb to go with mushrooms), making this a great salad for any season. It did seem a little dull and oily the first time I made it, so on the next go-round I decreased the olive oil and amped up the citrus (a 3:1 oil-to-acid ratio? I like it half-and-half, please). The result? Perfection, especially as a weekday lunch.
I struggled with what to serve with this at first—it’s satisfying enough to be a meal but I still feel compelled to accompany a mostly brown dish with something green—until I hit upon the idea of kale salad, another fresh-but-earthy concoction. This one, with walnuts, Pecorino, and lemon, echoes the elements of the farro salad without being repetitive. Together they make the ideal little salad sampler.

1 cup uncooked farro
Salt
1 pound cremini mushrooms
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup finely cubed or crumbled Parmesan
¼ cup roughly chopped Italian parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. While the oven heats, in a medium saucepan, combine the farro and enough cold water to cover it by about an inch. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain well and return the farro to the pan, again covering it with cold water. Add a few generous pinches of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender but still has some bite.
  3. While the farro is cooking, wipe and trim the mushrooms and then halve or quarter them, into bite-sized pieces. Arrange them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss gently to distribute everything; spread the mushrooms out evenly and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until crisp around the edges and cooked through.
  4. When the farro is cooked, drain it well and spread it on a clean baking sheet to cool. Do the same with the mushrooms once they are cooked. When the farro and mushrooms are close to room temperature, or just barely warm, combine them in a serving bowl. Add the lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of olive oil, tossing gently to combine. Then add the Parmesan, parsley and a generous grinding of pepper and fold gently. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve at room temperature.
Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Great.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

KALE, STRAWBERRY, AND AVOCADO SALAD


















I’m still desperately trying to play catchup here, but at least I’ve reached a recipe that seems more seasonally appropriate for today (i.e., isn’t soup). My goal is to have kale salads for all seasons, and here’s my spring edition—Southern California spring, at least, but more like summer everywhere else…so, see, I’m not late with this at all! I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to combine bitter leafy greens with sweet berries, creamy avocado, and crunchy poppy seeds, but the blend really works. Bright lemon vinaigrette is perfect as always (I can’t recall, but I’m guessing I left out the honey, because I like my dressings acidic), almonds add more texture and some protein, and feta brings its usual salty cheesy goodness. Regrettably, my salad didn’t turn out as picture-perfect as the original version over at Two Peas and Their Pod—especially if your strawberries and avocado are very ripe, they’ll begin to break down somewhat as soon as you start mixing everything—but its pinks, reds, whites, and greens were still pretty, and I loved its fresh, grassy flavors. Oh kale, what can’t you do?

1 bunch Tuscan kale (about 4-5 cups), stems removed, leaves chopped
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
⅓ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup feta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon poppy seeds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Put the kale in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl or jar, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, poppy seeds, salt, and pepper. Shake or whisk until mixed well.

3. Add most of the dressing to the kale and mix it together with your hands, massaging gently until the kale is well coated. If you have time, let the dressed kale sit for 15-30 minutes.

4. Add the strawberries, avocado, almonds, and feta cheese. Toss gently. Add the rest of the dressing as needed and toss gently to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: With the berries and avocado, it doesn’t hold up as sturdily as other kale salads I’ve tried, but it’s fine for a few days.

Friday, June 14, 2013

KALE AND WHITE BEAN SOUP


















You can tell I’m still catching up on recipes from a few months ago, when all these vegetable soups were just what I needed to bridge the gap between warm, comforting chilly-evening food and the fresh flavors of spring. I found this one on Epicurious (from the dearly departed Gourmet) because I was very specifically containing something with white beans, sausage, and kale—a classic combination but not one previously represented in my repertoire. It turned out to be exactly what I’d been hoping for…with one minor exception. The recipe claims it makes “6 main-dish servings,” but with 13 cups of liquid going into it, I should have known better. We like hearty portions, but I don’t see how this could only yield six bowls of soup unless they were huge mixing bowls. When I was portioning it out, I had to keep grabbing more containers out of the cupboard to hold it all, until every available surface in the kitchen was covered with bowls of soup, like some sort of I Love Lucy routine. I don’t exactly remember, but I think I got at least 10 generously sized servings. It didn’t end up being a problem—at least four of those servings went directly into the freezer, where they kept well and came in handy later—but it felt a little out of control at the time. Mostly I was just surprised that Gourmet would be so wildly off-base. (The recipe also just called for “8 carrots,” without any detail about what size. Eight of the petite carrots you buy in bunches at the farmers’ market in the spring, maybe, but definitely not eight big, fat, mature carrots. My carrots were medium-sized and after I’d cut up six, I had more than enough; any more and it would have been carrot and white bean soup. I’ve tried to clarify quantities in the recipe below.)

While I was skimming the Epicurious comments to see if other people had the same experience with the vast soup surplus (I didn’t make it through 132, but surprisingly few mentioned it), I saw a number of suggestions for further enhancements. I don’t think it really needs much help, especially if you take the original recipe’s advice and make it a day ahead of time so the flavors have time to deepen, but some of the ideas do sound good, like replacing a cup of the water with white wine, adding red pepper flakes, sprinkling Parmesan on top, or stirring in fresh lemon juice. A number of reviewers enthusiastically recommended putting a poached egg on top of each serving (or as one comment put it, “poached egg, poached egg, POACHED EGG!”), and that sounds awesome. Next time I make this, when fall is rolling around, that will happen.

1 pound dry white beans, such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
8 cups water
1 (3-by-2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, plus extra to taste
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 pound smoked sausage, such as kielbasa (I used chicken andouille), sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick
4 large, 6 medium, or 8 smallish carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
1 pound kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
  1. Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.
  2. Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 4 cups water, cheese rind, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.
  3. While soup is simmering, brown sausage in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain. (If your sausage is precooked and relatively lean, you can skip this step if you like.)
  4. Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining 4 cups water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.
Serves: 8-12
Time: 2½ hours
Leftover potential: Great! Makes a ton, tastes even better the next day, and freezes well.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

SPINACH SOUP WITH GARLIC THYME CROUTONS


















I have several green soups in my repertoire—broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, and even green bean (the point at which I actually had the short-sightedness to declare that my collection of pureed green soups was complete)—but somehow I’ve missed out on the most obvious variety. Of course spinach is ideal for soup because it you can cram a lot of it in there and it shrinks down to practically nothing. But spinach soup never sounded especially appealing to me until this Joy the Baker recipe caught my eye. So many pureed vegetable soups risk being bland, especially when potatoes are involved, so I look for big added flavors to keep things interesting, and this one had some of my faves, red pepper flakes and lemon juice, as well as an intriguingly large dose of dried thyme. (You might be tempted to use fresh, but I think dried has its own unique character and works well here.) The soup is great, fresh and green and velvety, but let’s face it, the croutons are the big stars here. Their spicy, salty, herby, garlicky, unrepentantly buttery crunch make this soup a knockout. A isn’t a fan of pureed soups and almost never eats the leftovers, but a plentiful supply of croutons was enough to lure him back for a second helping the next day. And I may be a vegetable soup lover anyway, but I’m not made of stone, and I found the crunchy, seasoned bread bites irresistible.

Making my own croutons isn't a revelation for me, but I’d never thought to put them on soup before. Now that I’ve started, I want to put them on everything.

Croutons:
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
4-6 heaping cups stale bread cubes
Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
2 cups peeled, diced red potatoes
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
6 heaping cups fresh spinach leaves
Juice of half a lemon

1. To prepare the croutons, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place bread cubes on the parchment, and set aside. Heat oil and butter in a medium sauté pan until butter is melted. Add sliced garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Remove garlic from the pan and discard. Remove pan from the heat, add thyme and red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Drizzle melted butter mixture over the bread cubes. Sprinkle generously with salt and toss with your hands, then spread cubes out in a single layer. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until bread is golden brown and crisp.

2. To prepare the soup, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Add potatoes and sauté for 3 minutes more.

3. Pour in chicken stock and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potato chunks are cooked through. Reduce heat to low and add spinach leaves. Stir and cook spinach down in the hot broth for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and puree soup with an immersion blender, or in a regular blender or food processor in batches. Once soup is pureed, stir in lemon juice and season with salt to taste.

4. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with croutons.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; store leftover croutons separately from soup.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

CHIPOTLE-ROSEMARY ROASTED NUTS

















As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a habitual snacker, but I’m terrified of being hungry—it makes me cranky and weak and shaky and indecisive. So I always feel better when I’ve got something to nibble on just in case, and nothing staves off my hunger pangs more than a handful of nuts. Having snacks on hand became especially important when I started my new job. Spending all day trying to learn the ropes is exhausting and overwhelming to begin with, but the company was extra busy and short-staffed when I came on board, so I was working incredibly hard right off the bat. I made sure that I was always supplied with a little container of nuts to feed my brain in the midmorning and late afternoon, but I burned through my small repertoire of roasted-nut recipes fairly quickly and decided to start in on my backlog of bookmarked new versions. This one, from Ina Garten via Eggs on Sunday, is a bit on the sweeter side than what I usually aim for, but boy howdy, is it delicious. A has declared it the all-time best, and I’m not inclined to argue.

Garten is also the creator of my special-occasion (specifically, Christmastime) nut recipe, Rosemary Roasted Cashews, and this shares some of the same ingredients and mix of sweet-spicy-salty-savory elements but takes everything up several notches. Here we have rosemary again, but also orange juice and zest, maple syrup, and a generous dose of smoky chipotle chili. The result is well-balanced and irresistible. And even though I had to laugh at the odd quantities of the different nuts called for in the recipe (basically, lots of cashews, a medium amount of walnuts and pecans, and just a few almonds, all adding up, inexplicably, to 31 ounces—for pete’s sake, why not two pounds, Ina?), I did follow it precisely for experimentation’s sake and loved the variety of the mixture. I used the bulk section at Whole Foods to get the exact amounts called for, but if it’s easier for you to buy prepackaged nuts, there’s no reason you couldn’t use, say, half cashews and half pecans and round up the quantities to an even number of pounds.

The first time I made this, I halved it because it seemed like a lot and nuts are expensive, y’all. I baked the nuts for exactly the time specified (I wasn’t thinking; I should have reduced it) and came within a hair’s breadth of burning them. They were still tasty, but decidedly on the dark—er, caramelized—side. The second time, I made the full recipe, but foolishly followed the instructions to the letter and plopped them all on a single baking sheet, even though there wasn’t room to spread them out in a single layer. Consequently, they took forever to cook. I baked them for about 15 minutes longer than the recipe said to, and they were still a little sticky when I took them out. I convinced myself they’d firm up when they cooled, but they remained a little chewy even then. Again, still tasty, but I feel as though I’ve yet to execute the recipe perfectly. I did correct the directions below to use two baking sheets if you’re making the full batch. Which you really should, because if they’re so delicious when I’ve messed them up, imagine how good they’ll be when I finally get them right!

3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecan halves (7 ounces)
½ cup whole almonds (3 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Zest of half an orange
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
2-3 teaspoons coarse kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the nuts, oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice and zest, and chipotle powder. Toss to coat the nuts evenly. Add 2 tablespoons of rosemary and 1 to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and toss again.

3. Divide the nuts between the two baking sheets and spread them out in a single layer. Roast for 25 minutes, stirring about halfway through, until glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with another teaspoon or so of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of minced rosemary.

4. Stir well and set the nuts aside on their baking sheets to cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking together too much as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

Serves: 12-16
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; will keep in a sealed container at room temperature for at least a week, or can be frozen indefinitely.

Monday, April 29, 2013

MUSHROOMS AND POACHED EGG ON CHEESY TOAST


















It is both tantalizing and frustrating to be hungry for something extremely specific. I’m not sure why this particular craving popped up now (it may have something to do with starting a new job and needing comfort food), but about four years ago I had mushrooms on toast for the first time, at the restaurant on the second floor of the co-op in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and I have thought of that meal intermittently ever since. I can’t even remember the precise details of the original dish, except that it was both new to me and delicious, yet somehow it evolved into a very particular desire to make my own mushrooms on toast, with cheese and a poached egg. Although it sounds simple enough to go out and do on one’s own, I first searched to see what recipes were available online, because I am a wimp like to follow directions.. Rather surprisingly, I combed through pages and pages of results without finding exactly what I was looking for. (Granted, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, but I figured I’d know it when I saw it.) Apparently, I was just going to have to improvise and hope it fed my craving.

I started with this mushrooms on toast recipe from The Kitchn, doubling the quantity because I wanted it to be a main dish and leaving out the crème fraiche because I was planning on adding cheese. I wanted my toast to be sturdy enough to hold the toppings, so I toasted it lightly in the toaster first, even though I would also be running it under the broiler at the end to melt the cheese. I couldn’t decide whether the cheese should go under or over the mushrooms, so A suggested I do both, which turned out to be a wise decision. The little layer of cheese under the mushrooms helped them adhere to the toast, and the layer on top, of course, became all browned and crisp under the broiler. I used Asiago because it has an assertive flavor that goes well with mushrooms, but mostly because I had some in the fridge that I wanted to use up. I could see Gruyere, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, or even a sharp cheddar working too. At the end, I plopped poached eggs on top, tossed an arugula salad on the side, and hoped for the best.

Did it taste anything like that inspirational brunch dish from LaCrosse? I couldn’t tell. No Proustian memories came rushing back when I took my first bite. Was it delicious? Absolutely. And did it satisfy my naggingly specific hunger? Yes! I wouldn’t change a thing next time. It made a surprisingly hearty meal (my slices of bread were on the large side) that had to be tackled with a knife and fork, yet it had a certain casual, homey, I-just-threw-this-together elegance to it. We both enjoyed it, but deep down I’m especially pleased that I managed to give myself exactly what I wanted.

1 pound cremini mushrooms, washed and thickly sliced
1 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 large clove of garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
A splash of white wine
Shredded Asiago or Gruyere cheese (sharp cheddar, Parmesan, or Pecorino Romano would also work)
4 slices of rustic bread, lightly toasted
4 eggs
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add all the mushrooms and give the pan a quick shake to distribute them in an even layer. Let them sit without stirring to take on some color, about 1 minute or so. Watch carefully and lower heat if they begin to burn, but keep it as high as possible.
  2. Stir the mushrooms and cook for another minute or so until evenly colored. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the shallot, stir briefly, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine, the garlic, and the thyme and remove from the heat. The pan should be hot enough to keep cooking everything (the wine will probably evaporate on contact).
  3. Heat water for poaching eggs.
  4. Preheat the broiler and place the pieces of toast on a baking sheet. Top each one with a light sprinkling of cheese, one-fourth of the mushrooms, and more cheese to taste. Broil just until cheese is melted and top is lightly browned.
  5. Meanwhile, poach eggs. Serve the eggs atop the mushroom-cheese toasts.

Serves: 2
Time: 25 minutes
Leftover potential: No.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

PARMESAN-ROASTED CAULIFLOWER


















Well, we survived—and even enjoyed—the soup, so it was time to be brave and give cauliflower a shot in its natural form. Just after I made this momentous decision, I picked up a copy of Bon Appetit in the waiting room of my dentist’s office and voila! There was a gorgeous photo of some caramelized cauliflower, adorned with onions and thyme. When I read the barely-even-a-recipe paragraph-long description and realized there was cheese involved as well, it took all my good citizen instincts to restrain me from tearing out the page right then and there. (Instead, I very considerately and sensibly jotted down a note to myself to look up the recipe online when I got home.)

This is not only a cinch to make, but it’s also just as delicious as it looks. I used some beautiful orange cauliflower because I couldn’t resist it at the farmers’ market (doesn’t it look like it should be cheddar-flavored?) but otherwise followed directions exactly. As with most vegetables, roasting does magical things to cauliflower, and of course the sweet onion, pungent garlic, earthy thyme, and salty cheese make everything even better. My only complaint was that after a couple of bites, it seemed to cry out for a little acid to perk it up and balance out all the nutty, bitter notes. I didn’t actually give this a try, afraid of ruining things, and we happily made short work of all our cauliflower just as it was, but next time I’d like to try a roasted cauliflower recipe that includes lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, just to see how that goes. (The longer I’ve been cooking, the more I’ve noticed that I’m a bit of a tartness junkie. Tastes a bit bland? Add acid!) Regardless, this is a stellar recipe, especially if, like me, you’re a cauliflower skeptic.

1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 medium onion, cut into eighths
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 medium unpeeled garlic cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. On a large rimmed baking sheet (coated with parchment if desired), toss cauliflower, onion, thyme, garlic, and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast, tossing occasionally, until almost tender, 35 to 40 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with Parmesan, toss to combine, and roast until cauliflower is tender and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes longer. (The original recipe neglects to say what to do with the garlic, but I just peeled it after roasting and put one clove in each serving.)
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BANANA BAKED OATMEAL


















More baked oatmeal! I love it so. It’s incredibly comforting to have a warm, delicious breakfast ready to go on a chilly morning. My standard version is just dandy, but it turns out that fruit (or vegetable, in the case of pumpkin) puree adds tons of moisture and nutrients, as well as flavor. This version, amped up with walnuts, a bit of brown sugar, and cinnamon—which of course  I augmented with a little cardamom—in addition to the mashed banana, truly is reminiscent of banana bread. The recipe is from Budget Bytes, which has proven to be a veritable cornucopia of intriguing-sounding baked oatmeal options. The first time I set out to make it I ended up veering into this separate (but very similar) version, because I had some leftover blueberries in the fridge that were getting past their prime. It smelled wonderful while baking, but I didn’t particularly love the result. Granted, for most of my life I’ve been mildly grossed out by bananas and haven’t cared for blueberries in baked goods, but I thought those days were behind me. I still don’t eat whole bananas on their own, but I like them in other formats, including cake, cookies, pancakes, and pudding. And blueberry buttermilk cake is one of my very favorite summer desserts! Yet I didn’t enjoy the flavor or texture of the blueberry banana oatmeal; it was quite damp and overpoweringly banana-y, and the blueberries didn’t break down at all, and I’m sure it was my error or hangup and no fault of the recipe, but bleah.

Yet banana oatmeal still sounded potentially tasty to me, so I decided to give the non-blueberry recipe a try and just ease off on the banana slightly. The original recipe called for four medium bananas or 1½ cups mashed, so I bought three small ones, got about 1¼ cups of puree, and made up the liquid deficit by adding ¼ cup extra milk. I don’t know if using a tiny bit less banana really made such a difference, but something must have done the trick, because I enjoyed this oatmeal. It’s fluffy, not too sweet, properly banana-bread-esque without overwhelming the flavor of the oats, and keeps me full all morning. I love that I now have three different baked oatmeal variations I can rotate among, especially since I started my new job last month and definitely need to have convenient, nourishing breakfast treats on hand so I can fuel up for another intense day of learning what the heck I’m supposed to be doing! I bake up a big dish of oatmeal on the weekends and it keeps me happily fed all week long.

1 to 1½ cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 to 4 medium)
⅓ cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 to 2½ cups milk (depending on how much banana you use; milk and banana together should total 3½ cups)
2½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon cardamom
½ cup chopped walnuts
Canola or coconut oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the mashed bananas together with the brown sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk in the milk, then stir in the oats. Roughly chop the walnuts and stir them in as well.
  3. Oil the inside of an 8-by-8 glass baking dish. Pour in the oat mixture. Cover with foil (optional) and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil (if using) and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the center is solid and the edges are slightly golden brown.
  4. Serve warm or cold, topped with milk, yogurt, fruit, or whatever else you like.
Serves: 6 to 8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great; will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for a week; reheat individual portions in the microwave. Note that the oatmeal may turn slightly gray as the banana oxidizes, but it will still be safe to eat.

Monday, March 25, 2013

LEEK FRITTERS WITH LEMON-GARLIC YOGURT SAUCE


















Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen is a blogger after my own heart, especially where fritters are concerned. A peek at my archives reveals no less than 10 fritter recipes, and three of them are from Smitten Kitchen: Indian-spiced vegetable fritters, zucchini-ham-ricotta fritters, and some tasty broccoli Parmesan fritters I haven’t posted about yet because the first time I made them, I scarfed them down before they could be photographed. So as soon as The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook came out and I snagged a copy at the library, I hoped a new fritter twist would be waiting inside, and I wasn’t disappointed. Leek fritters, no less! With lemony sauce!

A doesn’t especially love leeks, so I waited to make these until he was out of town. Blanching the leeks and squeezing them dry was a slight hassle, but no worse than shredding and squeezing zucchini, and everything else came together easily. I got slightly fewer fritters than promised—more like 6 than 10—but perhaps I just made mine larger than I was meant to; at any rate, it was a perfect meal for one person with a small salad on the side, and maybe a few left over for lunch the next day. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a leek fritter, but these were surprisingly unobtrusive. The blanched leeks melt into the rest of the batter, giving them a tender interior with the usual crisp frittery exterior, and the oniony flavor is quite delicate, which makes the tang of the creamy, garlicky, lemony sauce (I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream) a welcome contrast. And the springy green color is so lovely. I’m kicking myself for not trying these with a poached egg on top as the original recipe notes suggest, but that just gives me an excuse to make them again soon. It’s possible that A wouldn’t even hate them—but if he does, more for me!

On her blog, Perelman jokes that she may need a “frittervention,” but I hope she keeps the pan-fried-vegetable iterations coming. In the meantime, now that I’m cautiously tolerating cauliflower, I may need to try her cauliflower and feta fritter recipe.

2 pounds leeks (about 3 very large ones)
½ teaspoon table salt, plus more to taste
2 scallions, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
A few gratings of lemon zest
1 small garlic clove, minced
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While it heats, trim the leeks, leaving only the white and pale green parts. Halve them lengthwise and wash well under cold water. On a cutting board, slice crosswise into ¼-inch strips. When the water boils, add the leeks and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until slightly softened but not limp. Drain and wring out in a dishtowel.
  2. Transfer the leeks to a large bowl and stir in the scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, ½ teaspoon salt, baking powder, and black pepper to taste. Stir the dry ingredients into the leek mixture, then stir in the egg until the mixture is evenly coated.
  3.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Drop heaping spoonfuls of the leek mixture into the skillet and flatten with the back of a spatula. Cook until golden underneath, about 3 minutes. Flip fritters and cook for about 3 more minutes, or until the other side is browned. Drain fritters on paper towels and then transfer them to a cooling rack (or a 250-degree oven if you want to keep them warmer) while you repeat the process with the remaining leek mixture.
  4. While fritters cook, stir together yogurt, lemon juice and zest, garlic, and salt to taste in a small bowl. Serve atop the fritters.
Serves: 2
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK; cooked fritters can be stored in the fridge for up to a week and reheated in a dry skillet over medium heat (or, according to the original recipe, in a 325-degree oven). Perelman also says that they can also be frozen for months in a well-sealed package and reheated in the oven. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

SPINACH AND FETA PIES


















Hand pies, hand pies! I feel like every hand pie recipe I’ve tried (this is my third) has been slightly troublesome in some way, yet I still love them. Because how could one not like filling enveloped in a flaky, buttery crust? In this case, the real “trouble” was only that I had way too much filling to fit inside the amount of puff pastry called for, necessitating the purchase of another box of pastry dough and the assembly of another four pies a few days after the initial eight. Maybe I was supposed to have filled them fuller, although I really don’'t see how I could be expected to cram more in there or stretch the dough any thinner. Since the unbaked pies keep very well in the freezer, ready to be whipped out and baked up for easy future weeknight dinners, this was actually a boon—except for the legitimate obstacle of finding good puff pastry dough. Most ordinary grocery stores only carry the Pepperidge Farm stuff, which I’ve used in a pinch but it has a scarily long list of ingredients, including partially hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup. Trader Joe’s has a great, reasonably priced all-butter puff pastry dough, but it turns out it’s considered a “seasonal” item and isn’t available year-round. After trying my luck at no less than three separate Trader Joe’s locations and coming up empty, I desperately turned to a gourmet grocery store in my neighborhood and bought a box of good-quality all-butter puff pastry for an embarrassingly high price ($10!). Then when I discovered I’d need even more pastry, I tried Whole Foods, where I found…that same brand of good-quality all-butter puff pastry, for the same exorbitant price. Reader, I paid it. Even having spent an atrocious $15 on puff pastry, the rest of the ingredients came so cheaply and I made so many pies that I figure they still averaged out to only a few dollars per serving. I’m sure DIY is the way to go here, but I just don’t foresee myself learning how to make pastry in the near future, so next time I see puff pastry in stock at Trader Joe’s, I’m filling up my freezer. But really, with all that butter, puff pastry is only a “sometimes food” anyway (as Cookie Monster would say), so its scarcity won’t ruin my life.

Beyond all these travails, the filling itself was really easy to make (except I really loathe defrosting and squeezing out frozen spinach; it gets everywhere) and delicious, reminiscent of spanakopita. Spinach + feta + lemon is a match made in heaven. I was first inspired to make these by a post on Budget Bytes that showed a similar filling baked into a single pie, also a nice idea (and it uses just one sheet of puff pastry, which is both cheaper and healthier) but I do love a hand pie, so some Internet searching turned up this even better version (because it uses feta too) at Small Time Cooks. (The original recipe is from Everyday Food, but for some reason it doesn’t show up on a search of the Martha Stewart site.) I love that the recipe included freezing directions, since puff pastry is best freshly baked; I’ll employ that technique with all other hand pies from now on.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
40 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups crumbled feta
Juice from 1 large lemon (2–4 tablespoons)
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Coarse salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water, for egg wash
All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 to 1½ boxes frozen puff pastry, thawed but still cold (where each box is about 16 to 17 ounces and contains two sheets of pastry; start with two sheets, or one box, and use the third if you still have leftover filling)
  1. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; mix in spinach, feta, lemon juice, and cayenne. Season filling with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with racks in the upper and lower thirds.
  3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each of two sheets of dough into a 12-inch square; cut each square into quarters to make 8 smaller squares. Dividing evenly, spoon filling onto the center of each of the 8 squares. Lightly brush two adjoining edges of each square with some egg wash. Fold these edges over filling to form a triangle; press firmly to seal (dough should be tightly pressed around filling). With a floured fork, crimp edges.
  4. If you still have filling left over, repeat step 3 with the remaining sheet of dough to make 12 pies.
  5. Transfer pies to two baking sheets (lined with parchment if desired); brush tops with remaining egg wash. Bake until golden and puffed, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
Serves: Supposedly 8, with one pie apiece, but for me, this made 12 pies, and I sometimes ate 1.5 pies per serving, so 6-12
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good; already-baked puff pastry isn’t as good the next day (it tends to get kind of greasy, although it still tastes just fine). But it’s easy to freeze the raw pies and bake them later. Just place the unbaked pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them in the freezer for an hour or so; once they’re frozen, package them up (I just placed them in a Tupperware box with waxed paper between the layers, but you can also wrap them individually in plastic wrap and put them in a resealable plastic bag) and you can store them in the freezer for up to 2 months. To bake from frozen, just unwrap them and follow the directions in step 5, adding 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time if needed.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

TOM KHA GAI


















We used to have a favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant. When I first moved here, I was addicted to its fast, fresh, cheap, and delicious food, and since it was only a block away, we’d stroll over to pick up takeout on a regular basis. It was our go-to place to feed visitors, especially since it’s attached to the hotel where my parents always stay when they’re in town. Now that my own cooking has become much more frequent and adventurous, ordering takeout isn’t a regular part of our lives, but I still crave Thai food from time to time. And maybe I just overdosed on our place, but it just doesn’t seem quite as good to me as it once did. It’s undergone a change in name and management (although the décor and menu have remained similar enough that I’m pretty sure the new management is related to the old), and every time I walk past, it looks abandoned. I keep expecting to find it closed, and even though we no longer frequent it, that would make me sad, because then I’d have to go through all the hassle of finding a new Thai place (yes, I am a creature of habit).

Yet this still wouldn’t have been enough to inspire me to try replicating my favorite Thai restaurant dishes at home. I’ve gotten a bit bolder than I used to be about tackling Asian-inspired recipes (fish sauce now has a permanent place in my pantry), but I doubt my ability—or at least initiative—to concoct anything authentic enough to compete with a good restaurant. So when my friend S recommended this recipe from Cooking Light, I didn’t immediately jump to make it, despite the fact that tom kha gai had been our favorite soup order from the local Thai place. Honestly, it looked way too simple to be very good, and the reviews were somewhat mixed. But eventually I got curious and gave it a shot.

Is this especially authentic? No (it’s my understanding that galangal is a key ingredient of traditional tom kha gai, and that’s missing here). Is it as good as restaurant tom kha gai? No. But does it have more flavor than I expected a recipe this streamlined to have? Yes. And is it a delicious, ridiculously easy to make coconut chicken soup with mushrooms? Absolutely. A and I both thoroughly enjoyed it (he willingly late the leftovers, which is my barometer for determining whether he actually likes something, especially soup).

I was able to buy a single stalk of lemongrass at the farmers’ market, which was nice. I often use light coconut milk (mostly because that’s what Trader Joe’s has) but opted for the regular stuff here to avoid making the soup too thin, which I think was the right call (if even Cooking Light doesn’t specify light coconut milk, it may be a sign not to use it). I had to go with Vietnamese chili paste, sambal oelek, because my grocery store didn’t have a Thai version and had no time to go hunting, but the chili taste is subtle here, so I doubt it makes a very discernible difference; I actually ended up adding a teaspoon or so extra for more heat. (A lot of the Cooking Light commenters mentioned using “curry paste,” which is a different thing entirely; I’m not sure if they mistyped or misread.) I was confused by the direction to use “quarter-size pieces” of ginger (do I then remove them along with the lemongrass, or do I just have giant ginger chunks in my soup?), so I diced them as I do in most other recipes, but then I ended up having to chew a lot of ginger, so scratch that; I guess it’s better to leave the pieces big and then people can eat them or avoid them as they prefer.

Other than that I basically made the recipe as written, but with a bit more lime juice and mushrooms—I had an 8-ounce package and didn’t have a use for the leftovers, so I ended up putting in the whole thing, and I’ll admit the end result was very mushroomy (sort of like a Thai version of cream of mushroom soup). I didn’t mind it but will maybe cut back slightly next time. I also found myself hankering for a leafy green and might try adding a little baby bok choy in the future, even though it’s not strictly traditional. I served spring rolls on the side, although that upped the difficulty of the meal considerably, so next time I’ll probably just do a simple green salad instead for a truly effortless weeknight dinner.

14 ounces coconut milk
14 ounces reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Thai chili paste
Salt to taste
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
¼ cup fresh cilantro

1. In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, broth, ginger, and lemongrass and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque, 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Discard lemongrass. Season soup with salt to taste. Portion into four bowls and garnish every serving with 1 tablespoon each basil and cilantro.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good (will separate as it cools, but just stir it back together when reheating).