Wednesday, December 31, 2014

WHITE BEAN CHICKEN CHILI

















I’m rushing to post this before midnight so it can be eligible for my list of favorite 2014 recipes, because there’s no doubt it belongs there. Although I’m not a white chili connoisseur (I’ve heard of it but never eaten it), I see no reason to dispute Serious Eats’ claim that this is the best one. The Food Lab knows its stuff, and when that stuff is creamy, cheesy white beans with smoky-spicy chilies, lime, and plenty of cilantro, we should all just get on board.

The recipe sounds a little futzy, but let me assure you that it comes together easily, and there is a good reason for every step. Clever touches that put this head and shoulders above the rest include brining the beans in salty water (that old saw about salt making beans tough is the polar opposite of true), roasting the chilies for deeper flavor, poaching the chicken right in the soup until just tender, and pureeing some of the beans for extra creaminess. With a little patience, you get a bright, zesty, melty and ultra-satisfying stew with just the right balance of heat, freshness and richness.

A few miscellaneous notes: We found the spice level perfect, but you can use plain Monterey Jack if you’re worried that pepper Jack will put it over the top for you. The original recipe calls for a full pound of cheese, but 12 ounces seemed plenty generous to me; do what you like. I skipped the pickled jalapeno and juice because I didn’t feel like buying a whole jar/can, but now I know that this isn’t crazy spicy, I might add it last time—I can particularly see how the pickling juice would be nice, because I ended up adding extra lime juice to boost the acidity. I also skipped peeling the peppers in the broth; the original recipe says it’s easier, but having to then strain the broth and clean extra dishes didn’t sound worth it to me. The skins of the Anaheims and jalapenos slipped right off, but the poblanos did give me a little trouble. I ended up with a few scraps of skin still left on, but since the peppers just get pureed anyway, it wasn’t a big deal. (This might lead you to wonder why you should bother peeling the peppers at all, but since they get pretty blackened I think it would add too much burnt flavor.)

You should make this in 2015. Heck, if you hurry, you can make it tonight and end the year on a properly delicious upswing.

1 pound dried small white (Navy), Great Northern, or cannellini beans
Kosher salt
2 fresh poblano chilies
4 fresh Anaheim or Hatch chilies
2 jalapeño chilies
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed, and split in half from top to bottom
8 medium cloves garlic
1 whole pickled jalapeño pepper, plus 2 tablespoons pickling liquid from the can (optional)
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 quart homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds)
3/4 to 1 pound shredded pepper Jack cheese, divided
2 tablespoons fresh juice, plus 1 lime cut into wedges for serving
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves, divided
4 to 6 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  1. Place beans in a large bowl or pot and add 1 gallon (4 quarts) water. Add ¼ cup salt and stir until dissolved. Cover and let rest at room temperature at least 8 hours and up to 24. Drain and rinse beans.
  2. Adjust broiler rack to 8 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place poblanos, Anaheims, jalapeños, onion, and garlic on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Toss with one tablespoon oil, using your hands to coat. Season with salt to taste. Broil, turning peppers and rearranging vegetables occasionally, until peppers are blackened on all sides and skins are wrinkled all over, 15 to 20 minutes total. Gather up foil and form a sealed pouch. Let chilies rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Peel chilies, discard seeds and skin, and transfer flesh to the cup of a hand blender or a standing blender. Add broiled onion, broiled garlic, and the pickled jalapeño pepper (if using; don’t add the pickling liquid yet). Blend until a smooth purée is formed. Set aside.
  4. Heat remaining oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chili purée and cook, stirring, until incorporated.
  5. Add chicken broth, soaked beans and chicken breasts to pot, adding water as necessary until beans and chicken are fully submerged. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken breasts register 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes.
  6. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer chicken breasts to a bowl and let rest. Continue simmering broth and beans until beans are fully tender, about 1 hour total. Remove 1½ cups of beans and their liquid, and transfer to a standing blender or the work cup of an immersion blender. Blend until completely smooth. Stir back into pot.
  7. Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and stir back into stew. Stir in half of cheese until melted. Stir in jalapeño pickling liquid (if using), lime juice, and half of cilantro. Season to taste with salt.
  8. Serve topped with extra shredded cheese, lime wedges, cilantro, and scallions. Tortilla chips make a nice accompaniment.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 2 hours, plus 8-24 hours to soak beans
Leftover potential: Excellent; freezes well.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

VANILLA ROASTED PEARS

















I first made this Smitten Kitchen recipe during a visit from my parents. I recall it being easy, elegant, and enjoyed by all. I failed to get a photo, bookmarked it for a repeat attempt…and then about four years went by, for no good reason. I don’t make dessert that often, I never buy that many pears, I’m out of vanilla beans—I don’t know what my excuses were, but they all seem flimsy in retrospect. Because finally, last month, when I happened to have a surplus of ripe, ungainly little Bartletts (farmers’ market seconds left over from a canning project), I revisited it and fell in love all over again. A one-dish dessert that transforms a handful of basic ingredients into meltingly tender, tart-sweet fruit bathed in a fragrant caramelized sauce—how could I have wasted so much of my life not eating roasted pears?

Friends, don’t be like me. These pears will make you feel like a culinary rock star without breaking a sweat, help you celebrate the pear harvest in style, wow your dinner party guests with a sophisticated and seemingly effortless finale, or let you whip up a fairly wholesome weeknight treat. I have no doubt that they would be delicious over ice cream, topped with cream or crème fraiche, served with a cheese plate or spooned over oatmeal, but I have yet to do more than eat them straight from the pan. It may be counterintuitive to post this recipe during the holiday season, the one time of year when I feel compelled to tackle ambitious baking projects, yet it’s an excellent reminder that the simplest things really are often the best.

¼ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean (or a whole one if you’re feeling decadent)
1½ pounds ripe or slightly underripe medium pears, peeled if desired (but not necessary), halved though the stem and cored
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
  3. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod pieces among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish and dot each pear with some butter.
  4. Roast the pears for 30 minutes, brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer (a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance).
  5. Serve warm, topped with the caramelized drippings from the pan.
Serves: About 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; leftover pears can be eaten cold or reheated briefly in the microwave.

Friday, November 07, 2014

PUMPKIN SPICE GRANOLA

















This recipe is ideal for the time of year I always complain about, when the rest of the nation wraps up in wooly sweaters and sips hot cider while Southern California swelters into November. This year has been particularly brutal, leading me to spend long hours staring into my closet, wondering why I even bother owning long-sleeved clothing. Craving pumpkin-spice flavor while breaking a sweat at the thought of anything served above room temperature doesn’t leave much room for fall treats. One day, dreaming wistfully of steaming pumpkin baked oatmeal while it was plainly still granola weather, I thought, “Is there such a thing as pumpkin granola?”

I shouldn’t have even questioned it; I think the second rule of the Internet must be that there is a pumpkin variation of every possible foodstuff. (The first rule is something to do with cat videos.) I found a number of candidates but couldn’t settle on one; some looked too sweet, others didn’t contain much actual pumpkin. Then, the very day I was drawing up my grocery list, Budget Bytes published exactly what I was looking for. Well, almost exactly—I did swap in coconut oil for vegetable oil, maple syrup for honey, my own spice blend for pumpkin pie spice, and pecans for sunflower seeds. I left out the cranberries because I wasn’t in the mood for dried fruit, but might have added some pepitas if I had them, for a double hit of pumpkin power. However you choose to approach it, the result is an orange-hued, clustery granola with real pumpkin spice flavor that makes for a delicious autumnal breakfast treat. This was the first time I’d deviated from my go-to granola recipe in 10 years, but I’m glad I made room in my life for a seasonal alternative.

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup chopped pecans (pepitas would also be good here)
½ cup dried cranberries, chopped (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, spices, and salt. Stir and cook over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture is heated through and the sugar has dissolved.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the dry oats, pecans, and pumpkin mixture. Stir very well (mixing with your hands works best) until the oats are evenly coated with pumpkin and there are no dry oats left in the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Spread the oat mixture over two baking sheets covered with parchment paper. Bake the oats in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, or until they are mostly dry, stirring every 15 minutes.
  5. Once the oats are finished cooking, sprinkle in the chopped cranberries if desired, stir, then let cool completely. Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Serves: About 8
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

BAKED BARBECUE CHICKEN

















I know it’s fall for the rest of you, but here in L.A. the hot, dry weather persists. I’m aching for a cool breeze right now, but at least it doesn’t feel strange to still be catching up on my summer recipes. This one hearkens all the way back to when I gambled on trying potato salad for the first time (and won in a big way). I wanted something appropriately picnic-like to accompany it, and also to round out a valid meal in case it turned out I hated potato salad. Sweet, smoky, spicy barbecue seemed like the perfect balance for all that creamy starchiness, but since the salad was fairly labor-intensive I wanted the second dish to be as easy as possible. Baking up some chicken in some sauce sounded about right.

I’ve made basic barbecue sauces before, for pizza and sandwiches, but since the sauce would be the main event here, I thought I should try something a little more complex. Unfortunately, the first recipe I chose was Not So Great. I had to make and apply a dry rub, sear the (bone in, skin-on) chicken on the stove, make and apply the sauce, then bake it in the oven, and both the rub and the sauce were loaded with sugar. It was perfectly edible, but a hassle. The next time around, I went straight to the boneless, skinless chicken thighs—way less fuss to make, and easier to eat too. For the sauce, I searched high and low to find something that looked like it wasn’t too sweet and had enough flavor complexity without calling for any extra steps (dicing an onion, etc.) or special ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand (like chipotle chiles). As is often the case, I found exactly what I wanted at Serious Eats, aptly labeled Basic Barbecue Sauce. Because one of the ingredients is “your favorite barbecue rub,” I had to find a separate seasoning recipe and do some clever math to get the quantities right, but it was all worth it.

Barbecue sauce is a controversial topic (for instance, many purists cringe to see a recipe calling for ketchup), but this one suits me to a T. It’s still got some sweetness, but also acid and plenty of spice—in fact, I dial down the Tabasco a bit now, because the full amount was making my lips burn. You could bathe just about anything in this and it would taste delicious. The amounts below are for a half-recipe, which is roughly the amount you need for the chicken recipe with a little to spare, but the sauce keeps a long time in the fridge, so consider going for the full batch and you can have this meal again soon. You’ll definitely want it.

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except chicken in a nonreactive saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and gently simmer until dark, thick, and richly flavored, 10 to 15 minutes. (Sauce can be made ahead of time; store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
  3. Place the chicken in a large bowl and add about ½ cup of the barbecue sauce. Toss well until the chicken is completely coated. Arrange the chicken on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake chicken for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Baste with additional barbecue sauce and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until the sauce just starts to bubble. Serve with more sauce if desired.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, and any extra, unused sauce will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to several months.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

BUTTERMILK CHICKEN SALAD WITH CUCUMBERS, RADISHES, AND DILL

















I found this chicken recipe while paging through The Lemonade Cookbook. For those of you outside L.A., Lemonade is a local cafeteria-style chain serving “seasonal Southern California comfort food” (Twin Citians, think along the lines of a hipster Café Latte). A location recently opened next door to my office, and it’s definitely handy on those rare days when I don’t have leftovers to bring for lunch.

Ironically, though, the first thing that sprang to mind when I looked at this recipe was a salad from a competing local chain, Tender Greens. For a while, the Southern Fried Chicken Salad (“freckled romaine, butter lettuce, cucumber, radish dill dressing”) was my choice for emergency dinners or picnics on the go—until I started to feel like maybe I could do it just as well myself. So, from someone who doesn’t even eat out very often, here is a salad inspired by two different restaurants.

This is really just a spring/summery version of my old standby, Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad, so I went ahead and used the same creamy vinaigrette, my all-time fave dressing. I added homemade croutons for a little more heft and crunch, but feel free to leave them out. (The first time I made this I could only find a seeded baguette, and now I’m in love with making croutons that way—the toasted sesame seeds add a wonderful crunch and flavor.) I’m really happy with the resulting salad; the flavors meld together beautifully (cucumbers, radishes, and dill were made for each other), it’s refreshing yet satisfying, and I honestly like it even more than the restaurant version.

A word on the chicken, however: The marinade is a winner for sure, adding tenderness, tang, and a hint of spice to boring old chicken breasts, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the cooking method. I’ve made this twice so far, and both times found it hard to get the exterior fully crisp and brown without drying out the chicken or having all the breadcrumbs stick to the pan and fall off. Maybe you’ll have more luck, but I’m starting to suspect that keeping the marinade but switching to the flour-egg-panko coating and pan-frying method from the Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad recipe would be the best way to go here, even though it adds even more steps to an already long recipe. I’ll give it a try next time and let you know.

For the chicken:
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
1 onion, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1-2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
For the salad:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3-4 cups cubed (about ¾-inch pieces) French bread (I like to use a seeded baguette)
About 8 cups butter lettuce or arugula leaves (or a mixture)
6-8 large radishes, sliced
2 medium Persian cucumbers, sliced
1-2 tablespoons chopped dill
  1. To prepare the marinade, in a large mixing bowl whisk the buttermilk, mustard, hot sauce, paprika, salt, onion and garlic together to combine. Put the chicken in a plastic storage bag, add the buttermilk mixture and smoosh the chicken around to thoroughly coat in the marinade. Press out the air, seal the bag and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, and preferably 48.
  2. When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade, wiping off any excess buttermilk, and discard. Season both sides of the chicken breasts lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a plate or place them in a shallow bowl. Press the chicken breasts into the breadcrumbs to completely coat all sides, shaking off the excess.
  3. Put a cast-iron or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is shimmering, lay the chicken in the pan and sear for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the skillet (and chicken) to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the crust is golden. Remove chicken from the pan, place on a cooling rack, and let rest until about room temperature.
  4. While the chicken cooks, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed bread, toss well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast, stirring occasionally, until crispy and browned on all sides. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl; season with pepper to taste. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.
  6. Divide the lettuce/arugula, sliced radishes and cucumbers, and dill evenly between four bowls. Slice the chicken and place one breast atop each serving. Divide the croutons among the bowls, drizzle each salad with ¼ of the dressing, and toss well.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour, plus 1-2 days marinating
Leftover potential: Good; store components (chicken, lettuce, croutons, radishes/cucumbers/dill) separately and assemble just before serving.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER PUDDING

















When I first discovered how simple and gratifying it is to make homemade pudding, I went bonkers for it. Over the next three years, I gradually worked my way through every type I could think of and loved them all, but I regret to say that chocolate peanut butter didn’t cross my mind until I saw this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light. I further regret to say that it took me about a year and half to get around to making it, which is ridiculous because I love this flavor combination, and sad because I could have spent those 18 months eating a ton of extremely delicious pudding.

If you’re a fan of the choco-PB combo, this will satisfy your cravings with ease, and if you’re new to making pudding, it’s a great place to start. With no egg to temper, this is a quick boil-and-stir affair, and thanks to the natural thickness of the peanut butter and solid chocolate, it stiffens up very dramatically (almost to a mousse-like consistency) without much cooking at all. Just to keep things from becoming too simple, I added a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla, both good enhancements. I also used semisweet chocolate chips instead of the original recipe’s chopped milk chocolate, because it’s what I had on hand, and I think it was the better option—a deeper, richer taste with less sweetness. Cooking Light has you top it with sliced bananas (bleah) and chopped peanuts, but I don’t like chunks interrupting my creamy pudding texture, or any extra elements interfering all the with chocolatey, peanut buttery goodness.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa
1½ cups milk
½ cup light cream or half-and-half
2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup all-natural creamy peanut butter
1 pinch salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
  1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk. Whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 1 minute or until thick and bubbly.
  2. Remove from heat. Add chocolate, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla, stirring until smooth.
  3. Divide among bowls and chill until set.
Serves: 4-6
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GREEN QUINOA SALAD

















My ardor for quinoa has dimmed somewhat (blame overexposure, the fact that A has discovered/decided he doesn’t like it, and the newfound allure of farro), but I felt it spark anew when I saw this salad at The Kitchn. The original recipe calls it a Green Goddess dressing, but since it omits the traditional anchovies (fine by me) and replaces mayonnaise with creamy avocado, I’m just calling it “green.” Zesty with herbs, red pepper, vinegar, and lemon, it reminds me of chimichurri instead, even more so because I didn’t have the full quantity of basil and had to swap in some cilantro—a substitution that ended up being so tasty I made it official below.

If you find quinoa bland, this vibrant dressing is just the fix. All the other quinoa salads I’ve tried have light vinaigrettes, so a heavy dousing of thick, assertive sauce seemed strange at first, but it tastes so right. The dressing is totally the star here, but the other elements work surprisingly well together too; I’ve paired radishes and arugula before, but wouldn’t necessarily have thought to add edamame and walnuts to the mix. The colors are pretty, the flavors are fresh, and the mix of crunchy and creamy textures is addictive. I thought this might be the dish to redeem quinoa for A, but alas, he still didn’t dig it. Oh, well—that means more for me of what might be my new favorite salad. With three sources of protein (quinoa, edamame, and nuts), it makes a satisfying lunch all week long.

Dressing:
2 scallions, minced (white and light green parts only)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt to taste
Salad:
1 cup dry quinoa
3 cups arugula
1 cup shelled cooked edamame
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare the dressing by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor and blending until smooth. Add a little more water or oil to thin if necessary. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the quinoa in a strainer under cool running water, then combine it in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until quinoa has absorbed the liquid and can easily be fluffed with a fork, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  3. While the quinoa is still a little warm, toss it with about half of the salad dressing, then add the arugula so the leaves wilt down a bit. Stir in the edamame, walnuts, and radishes, then slowly drizzle in the dressing.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Monday, September 01, 2014

JAM ALMOND CRUMB BARS

















I’m canning less than I used to (I blame this year’s interminable heat, coupled with an increasingly demanding job that leaves me less energy for big kitchen projects), but I still have a perpetual spare-jam supply. Beyond my big holiday distribution, I always hoard a few jars just in case I need them for eating or gifts throughout the year, plus there always seems to be one in every batch that doesn’t seal properly and has to get added to the crowd in the back of the fridge, where it languishes long enough for me to forget when it was made.

When blueberry-picking time rolled around this year and I prepared to make a fresh batch of blueberry-lime jam, I discovered to my chagrin not only a big jar still left over from last year in my stash under the bed, but also two open, partially used jars of indeterminate age floating around in the refrigerator. I have coworkers who will happily polish off any extra jam I happen to have, but I felt odd trying to give away such old stuff, even though I knew it was perfectly safe to eat (with so much sugar and acid, jam rarely goes bad, and if it does it tells you so by getting moldy—but it should still be eaten within a year, and the texture does alter a bit with age).

I needed a recipe that would use up a lot of jam and mitigate any potential staleness, and I quickly found just the thing at Two Peas and Their Pod: easy bars that sandwich the fruit between a simple crust and a crumb topping. I had made similar jam bars once before, but they were loaded with butter and sugar, and even though I wrote about them so enthusiastically here, I never made them again. This new recipe has less sugar and half the fat, uses coconut oil instead of butter, and replaces white flour with whole wheat. It’s still not health food, but it’s less overwhelmingly rich and actually tastes better too; the nuttiness of the wheat and almonds and the slight coconut flavor add a nice counterpoint to the sweet preserves. These bars make an addictive dessert—I brought them to a picnic and they were a big hit—but it wouldn’t be totally crazy to eat them for breakfast or a snack, either. In short, I’m in love, and very sorry to have gotten my jam situation so well under control that I don’t have any left over to make more jam bars. Yes, I could just buy jam at the store, but that seems like cheating… So as soon as the weather cools off (please let it cool off!), I’ve got to get canning, stat. In the meantime, if you’ve got homemade jam from me (or another source) sitting around gathering dust, this is a great way to use it up.

1½ cups white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I also added a pinch of cardamom)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup coconut oil, at room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sliced almonds
¾ cup fruit jam
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray or coconut oil. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream coconut oil and sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix well. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour mixture. Mix until combined (the dough will be crumbly). Stir in the sliced almonds.
  4. Gently press half the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Evenly spread jam over dough. Sprinkle remaining dough over the top, making sure you cover the entire thing. Press gently to form the top layer.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely and cut into squares.
Yields: 12-16 bars
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; freezes well.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ROASTED TOMATO, KALE, AND FARRO SALAD

















I’m fond of farro, but not unconditionally; its appeal depends a lot on the company it keeps. The first time I tried it, in a salad with butternut squash, I didn’t like it. The second, third, and fourth times, with beef, mushrooms, and tomatoes, respectively, I loved it. But the fifth time, recently, with peaches and arugula (so pretty!), was less successful. Lesson learned: For me, the keys to a good farro dish are bold flavors, especially umami and acid. So when I saw a recipe online for orzo with roasted tomatoes and kale, I thought, “I bet that would work well with farro!”—and I was right.

Roasted tomatoes have become staples in my kitchen. They were on my list of favorite recipes of 2012, got added to a pizza that made the list in 2013, and are a major component of the pizza that will probably end up one of my 2014 greatest hits. It was actually that 2013 roasted tomato, kale, and feta pizza that inspired me to add feta to this salad, and its strong briny creaminess is another important counterbalance to the earthy, chewy farro. I amped up the tartness with a basic balsamic vinaigrette (the orzo recipe only had oil, no vinegar), and long story short, I loved the end result. It’s enough to inspire me to turn on the oven even in the dog days of summer, but it will also make a perfect winter salad during the long stretches when kale dominates the produce displays (particularly since you don’t need perfect in-season tomatoes for roasting; the insipid grocery-store kind do just as well). Grains and greens, cheese and caramelized tomatoes—what more can you ask for?

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes (about 3 cups), halved
½ cup olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
¾ teaspoon salt, divided, plus extra to taste
1 cup uncooked farro
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
About 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cherry tomatoes on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, maple syrup, and ½ teaspoon 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. (You can do this up to a week ahead of time if you like—just let the tomatoes cool, scrape them into a glass or plastic container along with any liquid that was left on the baking sheet, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator.)
  2. While the tomatoes roast, 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. Drain well and spread on a clean baking sheet to cool.
  3. While farro is cooking and cooling, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and ¼ cup olive oil in a small bowl until emulsified.
  4. Place the shredded kale in a large bowl and toss with about half the dressing. Mix well with your hands and let sit for at least 15 minutes until softened.
  5. When the farro and tomatoes have cooled to room temperature, add them to the kale along with the rest of the dressing. Crumble in feta to taste and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Great.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

BLUEBERRY PEACH CRUMBLE

















It wouldn’t be summer without another new blueberry recipe in the wake of our annual blueberry-picking expedition. Thanks to the extra-warm weather this year, the blueberries were ahead of season and already getting sparse when we made the trip to Somis in late June, which helped keep our haul at a reasonable level (around 7 pounds). One batch of blueberry jam, one blueberry-corn salad and a lot of eating by the handful left us with only a modest amount that need to be creatively used up, so I found this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod to help us out.

Fruit crisps and crumbles are always delicious and are hardly rocket science, but this one especially floats my boat with just the right amount of sweetness and seasoning (lemon, vanilla, cinnamon—and I always add a little cardamom too, Swede that I am). I love the addition of peaches to cut the intensity of the cooked blueberries.

The original recipe says to peel the peaches, but if you’re lazy like me and don’t mind a more rustic texture, you can skip it. In other lazy news, I just mix the filling right in the baking dish instead of dirtying another bowl. Vanilla ice cream would make a magnificent topping, but I had some leftover heavy cream in the fridge, and a little bit splashed over the warm fruit was pretty incredible too.

Filling:
2 cups blueberries
2½ cups sliced peaches (about 4 large peaches), peeled if desired
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter, diced
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a 2-quart ceramic or glass baking dish, combine blueberries, sliced peaches, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, granulated sugar, and flour. Gently toss until fruit is well coated. Let the fruit mixture sit while you prepare the topping.
  3. For the topping, in a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together with a whisk. Mix in the butter with your fingers until the mixture comes together and you have big crumbles.
  4. Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good. Refrigerate leftovers in airtight containers and either eat them cold or reheat them in the microwave.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BAKED EGGS WITH SPINACH AND MUSHROOMS

















This feels a little anticlimactic after the big Potato Salad Revelation. I thought the recipe (from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen) sounded a little boring, but useful: one of those easy, cozy egg dishes that can be whipped up with little energy and on short notice—the first day back from vacation, say, when the fridge is nearly bare and you just want to grab a few things at the store and throw something together. Spinach, mushrooms, and eggs…what’s not to like? Er, unless you don’t like one of those three things. But I like all of them and know they go well together, in a non-earthshattering kind of way.

Except I was pleasantly surprised by how much flavor is packed into this dish and how much we enjoyed it. Not to mention it’s relaxingly flexible—I used more spinach and mushrooms because those were the package sizes I’d bought and I wanted to use them up, and it was just fine—and can be scaled up to serve six or more, making it just as nice for brunchtime entertaining as for a lazy weekday dinner. The only flaw is that my eggs have turned out too hard both times so far, but that’s easily fixed with a bit more attentiveness; I’ll try them after 5 minutes next time instead of the original 7 to 10. And even oversolid, they still tasted great, so no big deal. Apparently it even makes good leftovers, although I’ve yet to try that. All in all, this recipe is a good reminder that sometimes basic food can be best.

10-12 ounces baby spinach leaves
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5-8 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Bring ½ inch water to a boil in a 10- to 12-inch ovenproof heavy skillet (not cast-iron), then add half of spinach and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add remaining spinach and wilt in same manner, then cook, covered, over medium-high heat until spinach is tender, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water. Gently squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop.
  3. Wipe skillet dry, then melt butter over medium-low heat and cook onion and garlic, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium, then cook, stirring, until mushrooms are softened and have exuded liquid, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and chopped spinach and bring to a simmer.
  4. Remove skillet from heat and make 4 large indentations in spinach mixture. Break an egg into each indentation and bake, uncovered, until egg whites are set but yolks are still runny, 5 to 10 minutes. (Check them after 5 minutes.) Lightly season eggs with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with cheese.
Serves: 2 (can be doubled or tripled as needed)
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Untried by me, but word on the street says it’s decent.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

POTATO SALAD

















I’ve mentioned at least four times on this site that I hate potato salad, usually in the context of…trying another potato salad recipe. Two of those haven’t really stayed in my life, while two more have become old favorites, but none were traditional American mayo-based potato salad, which I still thought repulsed me until I saw this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod (shared, ironically, by another former potato-salad hater). And it looked delicious! Who even am I anymore?

Ever since I started making my own mayonnaise, my feelings about it have slowly shifted from revulsion through tolerance to outright enjoyment (of the homemade stuff only; for any mayonnaise encountered outside my own kitchen I’m still stuck somewhere between revulsion and tolerance). Now that it’s summer, I find myself with a bowl of mayo in the fridge almost constantly so that I can enjoy my favorite seasonal meal, BLTs and corn on the cob, as often as possible. But since my nice preservative-free mayo won’t last forever, I’m always looking for ways to use up the dregs of a batch. So I looked at this potato salad recipe and realized it would accomplish that, while also containing a bunch of other ingredients I now enjoy: eggs (cold eggs also used to repel me), mustard (hated it as a child), pickles, dill…. Yeah, this was really happening. I was craving potato salad.

I thought it seemed odd that the recipe called for russet potatoes, since the standard wisdom seems to be that red ones are best for salads. I did a bit of Googling, however, and found an article at Serious Eats demonstrating that the granular, open texture of russets absorbs seasoning far better. Sold! I should have read the rest more closely, though, and followed its potato-cooking method, because the directions from the Two Peas recipe (cut potatoes in half, boil them, then cut into chunks) didn’t really work out—I thought it seemed suspect but gamely followed instructions, and as I feared the pieces varied widely in texture, with some still a bit crunchy while others were crumbly. The second time around (spoiler: I liked this enough to make it again), I followed the Serious Eats findings for optimal potato texture (cut into chunks before boiling, add salt and vinegar to the water, and sprinkle a bit more vinegar over the warm potatoes so they absorb the flavor) and everything turned out perfectly. The only other tweak I made was to add a bit of dill pickle juice to the salad for more acidic brightness.

Folks, I know I’m no potato salad expert, but I’m pretty sure this is the best one around. Cutting the mayo with Greek yogurt lightens it up a bit, I love the crunch of the celery and pickles, and the salty-creamy-tart elements are perfectly balanced. This is a bit of a dangerous discovery, because I think I could eat this stuff all the time. I would be questioning my whole identity at this point, except I don’t think we can count me as an unabashed potato salad lover quite yet. I tried someone else’s at a barbecue recently and felt indifferent. And who knows? Maybe diehard potato salad fans will try this and be unimpressed (although I really don’t think so). All I know is that it’s the right one for me.

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½- to ¾-inch cubes
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
2 tablespoons vinegar (white, wine wine, or rice wine work well)
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise (for best results, use homemade)
1 tablespoon yellow ballpark mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ cup chopped green onions
½ cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped dill pickles, plus pickling liquid to taste (optional)
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1. Add 2 quarts water to a large saucepan. Add potatoes, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Spread them into an even layer, then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon vinegar. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then place the potatoes in a large bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, mustards, and paprika. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and gently stir with a spatula until the potatoes are well coated. Add the onions, celery, pickles, pickle juice to taste if desired (start with about a tablespoon), eggs, and dill. Gently stir again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE KEBABS WITH CHIMICHURRI SAUCE

















I love accidental discoveries. Last summer I decided to make this baked halibut with chimichurri recipe from The Kitchn, and while the fish itself didn’t rock my world, the sauce was fantastic—no surprise, since I usually adore a good green sauce, from Mexican salsa verde to Peruvian aji verde to Indian green chutney. I had a bunch of chimichurri left over and went Googling for ways to use it up, and so stumbled across this kabob recipe from Pamela Salzman, which turned out to be just the thing. I’ve never made the chimichurri fish again, but I’ve made these kabobs three or four times since. (I kept neglecting to get photos, which is why I’ve waited so long to tell you about them. This photo isn’t the best but I hate to get between you and these kebabs any longer.)

Chimichurri is traditionally served with steak, but to me it’s just the thing for pepping up simple grilled chicken and vegetables. The stealth stars here are the mushrooms, which taste great grilled and really shine with the herbs and garlic. Each time I make this, I find myself using a few more mushrooms and a little less zucchini. This is a pretty flexible recipe, so do whatever moves you. Just don’t skimp on the tart, spicy, bright green sauce.

Chimichurri:
3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
¾ cup parsley leaves
½ cup cilantro leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Kebabs:
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 small zucchini (I like to use one green and one yellow), cut into ¾-inch rounds
2 small bell peppers (I like to use one red and one yellow), cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces medium-large cremini mushrooms, stems removed
Olive oil and salt to taste
  1. To make the chimichurri, combine all the ingredients in a small food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Place the cubed chicken in a non-reactive container, add a few tablespoons of chimichurri sauce, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate chicken for up to 24 hours, or marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate reserved sauce.
  3. When ready to eat, heat up the grill. Toss the vegetables lightly with olive oil or a little chimichurri. Thread the chicken and vegetables onto skewers and season kabobs lightly with salt. Grill on both sides until chicken is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes per side. Serve drizzled with reserved sauce.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 to 24 hours marinating time
Leftover potential: Good (remove from skewers and store in an airtight container).

Monday, July 07, 2014

CHEESY MASHED WHITE BEANS WITH KALE AND EGG

















There are certain recipes I wait to make until A is out of town, and this is one of them. Although he will eat both beans and kale in certain contexts, neither is on his list of favorite foods, and I can’t imagine him sitting down to a meal that consists of little else. Scaled down by half, this is perfect bachelor fare—cozy but more elegant than popcorn, a little indulgent but more nourishing than nachos, appropriate for any season, and easy enough to make that I have time afterward to catch up on all my favorite TV shows (Doctor Who! Orange Is the New Black! True Detective!), with leftovers stowed away for supper the next night.

I’d happily eat a big bowl of the garlicky, creamy, cheddar-spiked white bean mash alone, but topping it with lemony sautéed greens and a couple of runny eggs instantly equals complete meal. (I poach my eggs, rather than frying them as the original recipe at Serious Eats instructed…just personal preference. I’ve also used chives in place of the scallions on occasion, depending on what needs to be used up in the fridge.) I do miss A a lot when he’s gone, but dinners like this are the silver lining—or is that the cheesy lining?—to being home alone.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup heavy cream
3 ounces grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups finely shredded kale (I often use more)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4-8 eggs
¼ cup finely sliced scallion whites and light greens
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add beans, cream, and ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer, then mash beans lightly with a potato masher. If needed, add more water until a loose, porridge-like consistency is reached. Stir in cheddar and Parmesan cheese and half the scallions, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add kale, season with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing and stirring frequently, until wilted and starting to crisp, about 4 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Fry or poach eggs.
  4. To serve, divide beans evenly among four bowls, then top each serving with sautéed kale and one or two eggs. Sprinkle with remaining scallions, grate some Parmesan over the top, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK, although the greens may discolor somewhat from the lemon juice; store beans and kale separately and don’t cook the eggs until ready to eat.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

SALMON SALAD

















I never thought I’d be interested in something called “salmon salad.” Let’s face it, it sounds weird—even though it’s basically just a modified Nicoise with salmon instead of tuna. But cold cooked fish is not my thing, and recently I’ve decided to face the fact that salmon isn’t my thing either, no matter how it’s cooked (raw is a different story; I could eat salmon sushi all day long). Yet the photo in Dinner: A Love Story still drew me in, with its rainbow of purple potatoes, green beans and cucumbers and herbs, yellow corn, red tomatoes, and the lovely pink salmon. Those are all my favorite summer vegetables, and I love lemony-mustardy vinaigrettes like this one—would all that be enough to make chilled salmon palatable?

Short answer: Yes, for me. A was not a fan of this one, but I kind of love it. It turns out that tearing it into little bits and mixing it with lots of other things mitigates most of the textural issues I have with cooked salmon. This salad is a great way to get me to eat fish AND make it portable—the leftovers keep well for several days and can be consumed at work without inflicting any of the dreaded fish-reheating smell (the scourge of so many office kitchens) on your colleagues. I still prefer white fish overall, but this beautifully refreshing summer salad is my new favorite way to work the occasional smattering of salmon into my diet.

My only notable changes to the original recipe were to add dill, which is just so perfect with salmon (and green beans, and potatoes, and cucumber…), and to omit the sugar from the vinaigrette. I made it as written the first time, but I should have remembered that I never add sugar to my dressings—not surprisingly, it tasted too sweet to me. I prefer things acidic, and the starchy potatoes and dense salmon can definitely stand up to tart flavors. I’ve marked the sugar as optional here; I’d recommend tasting the dressing without it first, and then adding it in ½ teaspoon increments to take the sour edge off if needed.

¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
About 1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice, to taste
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound salmon fillet
1 large handful (about 1 cup) small red, purple or yellow potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
2 ears corn
1 large handful (about 1 cup) thin green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 medium Persian cucumber, seeded and chopped
4 scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (parsley would also be good here if you don’t have cilantro)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar (if desired), lemon/lime juice, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  3. To make the salmon, sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Roast in a foil-lined baking dish for 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until a knife slices through them with no resistance, about 10-12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes to a colander and let cool.
  5. Add the corn to the same pot of water. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and allow to cool.
  6. Add beans to the same pot of water and cook for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and let cool in a colander.
  7. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, and dill in a large bowl. When potatoes and green beans are room temperature, add them to the mixture. Cut the kernels off the corn cobs and add those to the bowl. Gently flake the salmon apart into bite-sized chunks and add it to the salad. Pour on the vinaigrette and toss gently.
Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Friday, July 04, 2014

LEMON COOKIES WITH TOASTED COCONUT FROSTING

















If I had to name my mom’s favorite foods, at least as far as I know, lemon and coconut would top the list—so when I saw this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod, I knew it would be the perfect treat to bake for her birthday. Frosted cookies don’t mail well, but I was fortunate enough to be able to celebrate with Mom in person, as her birthday happened to be the first day of my parents’ annual California visit. I’m glad I had this idea, not only because everyone (and especially my mother) really enjoyed the cookies, but also because I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to making them if I hadn’t had such a festive semi-selfless excuse; frosted cookies are just so much more of a hassle than regular ones. Missing out on these tender, sunny sugar cookies with fluffy coconut-flavored frosting and crispy toasted coconut would have been a shame. After all, lemon and coconut are fave flavors of mine too…it must be genetic.

I used regular milk in the frosting because I didn’t want to open a whole can of coconut milk just for a spoonful of it, but if you happened to have some just sitting around, it would amp up the flavor even more—a triple coconut dose. The frosting turned out on the soft side, which, combined with the flakes of coconut on top, makes eating these a rather messy endeavor (they’re a little more tractable when frozen), but I didn’t want to add any more sugar to stiffen it because it was already quite sweet. It might have been cloying on its own, but the cookies themselves aren’t overly sugary, so together they balance out.

Cookies:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Frosting:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 tablespoon coconut milk (or regular milk)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk and set aside.
  3. In another small bowl, add granulated sugar and lemon zest. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until fragrant.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat butter and sugar/lemon mixture together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, and fresh lemon juice. Mix until smooth.
  5. Slowly beat in flour mixture on low speed until blended.
  6. Drop dough by tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Gently flatten dough with the palm of your hand.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are just set and slightly golden brown. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 2 minutes and transfer to cooking racks. Cool completely.
  8. While the cookies are cooling, make the frosting. In a stand mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), mix together butter and sugar. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add coconut extract and coconut milk (or regular milk). Beat on medium speed for 1 minute or until frosting is smooth and creamy. You may need to add a little more sugar or coconut milk, depending on your desired consistency.
  9. Once the cookies are out of the oven, turn the heat down to 325 and spread the coconut in a thin layer on a baking sheet. Put it in the oven just until light brown and fragrant, 5-10 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  10. Frost the cooled cookies and sprinkle toasted coconut on top.

Yields: About 2 dozen
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great; store in an airtight container for several days at room temperature or indefinitely in the freezer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

CHICKEN FAJITAS

















It’s been over a year since I resumed a five-days-a-week-in-the-office job after several blissful years of working partly from home, but I’m still struggling to strike the right balance in my weeknight cooking plans. On the one hand I have my hankering to experiment with new techniques and ingredients, make everything from scratch, and add content to my blog, and on the other I have my yearning for easy, quick, reliable recipes that allow me to have a little bit of evening free time left over when they’re done. For the most part, simplicity is winning. Baking, long braises, and instructions longer than 10 steps are out, old standbys are in, and at least one night a week I feel like just throwing something on a tortilla and calling it good.

Fajitas aren’t something I’ve routinely craved before now—they’re fun to order in a restaurant now and then, with the loudly sizzling pan and the extra joy of assembling them as you please—but quickly stir-fried and served with whatever fixings you have on hand, they make an excellent speedy dinner that doesn’t require too much thought. I tried a recipe sometime last year but it was lackluster, so I promptly forgot about the idea until this version appeared at Smitten Kitchen. It’s a little more effort because it involves a marinade—which you really should start the night before, if you think of it—but it delivers a lot more flavor and keeps the chicken deliciously tender. Prep all the toppings in advance of even turning on the stove, because the cooking itself is so fast you’ll be eating before you know it. I know the recipe doesn’t look like much, but it magically transforms into a perfect post-work meal.

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced
Small flour or corn tortillas
Olive oil
2 large bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large yellow or sweet onion, halved and sliced thinly
Toppings as desired (e.g., salsa, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, guacamole, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, pickled onions or jalapenos, lime wedges)
  1. To prepare the chicken, slice into thin strips (¼ to ½ inch wide). Place in a bowl or freezer bag. Add lime juice, 1½ teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika and garlic and mix together. Let marinate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days in the fridge.
  2. 20 to 25 minutes before you’re ready to eat, heat the oven to 250 and wrap tortillas in foil. Set on oven rack to warm. Set out fixings of your choice.
  3. Heat a large skillet over high heat. When very hot, drizzle in some olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. When this is nearly smoking hot, add the peppers in a single layer. Wait. Try to get them a little charred underneath before you move them around. Once they’ve begun to brown, add the onions, plus some salt to taste. Wait again for some color to develop before you move them. When peppers are nicely charred in spots and onions have softened and sweetened, scrape mixture onto a plate or bowl to clear the skillet.
  4. Heat skillet again on a very high heat with a thin slick of olive oil. Spread chicken strips in as much of a single layer as you can. Wait until they brown underneath to move them. Saute strips, regularly pausing so that they can get some color, until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Return peppers and onions to skillet. Heat again until everything is sizzling.
  5. Spoon chicken mixture onto warm tortillas and add toppings of your choice.
Serves: 4-6
Time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes to 2 days of marinating
Leftover potential: Great; store chicken-pepper mixture, tortillas, and toppings separately.

Friday, June 13, 2014

SHREDDED BEEF TACOS

















After the smashing success of carnitas, I looked around eagerly for something else I could braise and stuff in a taco, and beef was the next logical choice. I remembered seeing (and bookmarking and unbookmarking a few times over the years) this recipe at The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and followed it back to its source at Use Real Butter. It’s only marginally more difficult than the carnitas: marinate the meat with vinegar, lime, garlic and spices; add liquid; bake the heck out of it until it falls apart in shreds; pile on tortillas and gorge.

The only challenge was finding “eye of chuck,” the cut particularly specified in the original recipe. This is where having access to an actual butcher would come in handy, especially if you are incapable of learning cuts of meat (as I seem to be, no matter how many times I look at those cow diagrams). I did the best I could and went to Whole Foods, where of course there was nothing actually labeled “eye of chuck,” but the very helpful man behind the counter immediately consulted his supervisor, who told us that it was a certain portion of the chuck roast closest to the rib, and instructed his employee exactly where to cut it off for me. Customer service at its finest!

Unsurprisingly, these tacos were as succulent and flavorful as I’d imagined, another “I can’t believe I just made that” hit. The beef would be just as good in a burrito, quesadilla, tostada, nachos or any other tortilla-related format. Now I just need to figure out a good braised-chicken taco and I’ll be set.

1½ pounds eye of chuck (chuck eye steak or chuck eye roast)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef stock
Corn or flour tortillas
Toppings of your choice, such as salsa, guacamole, lettuce, cheese, etc.

1. Trim the fat off the beef and cut the meat into 1-inch-thick slices. In a zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, salt, and garlic. Place the meat slices in the bag, seal, mix it around and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Bring the meat to room temperature and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place all contents from the bag in a baking dish (a Dutch oven works well) with the beef stock. Cover the dish and bake for 1½ to 2½ hours. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes, then shred it with two forks.

3. Serve beef on tortillas with toppings of your choice.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 2-3 hours, plus marinating time
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

SOFT FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES

















As I’ve mentioned before, I have nostalgic feelings about sugar cookies. Most of my childhood memories involve the flat, crisp-chewy style with thin, glaze-like icing. I could never resist these in a bakery window, especially when they came in unusual shapes with elaborate decoration, like the faces of Sesame Street characters (bonus points for garish blue or green that stained my tongue); my particular favorite was the “cookie on a stick” I would always choose as my treat for behaving myself when my mom dragged out shopping at the mall. But later in life, mostly thanks to office holiday celebrations, I fell hard for the polar-opposite sugar cookie model, the fluffy, impossibly soft, buttercream-frosted ones found in grocery store bakery sections. Why do I find them so irresistible? It’s that pillowy cakelike texture, even when it verges on being too floury (and no doubt artificial-preservative-laden). I always felt a little gross after finishing one, but the first bite was sheer heaven.

So when a recipe popped up at Annie’s Eats that promised to replicate the super-soft sugar-cookie experience, I had to give it a try. These cookies really do feed that craving, satisfyingly thick and tender but without the dense, doughy, chalky quality the storebought ones can have. And the flavor is infinitely better, buttery and intensely vanilla-spiked.

My one stumble has been with the frosting, which has turned out smooth and glaze-like instead of thick and creamy both times I’ve made these. The first time (pink, for Valentine’s Day 2013; yes, I’ve been holding out on you that long) the finished cookies were so homely (er, “rustic”) that I didn’t even want to photograph them, but as soon as I realized how addictively delicious they are, I knew I’d have to try again so I could post them. I figured I had put too much milk in the frosting and tried to dial it back on the second attempt, but got the same result (this time in robin’s-egg blue, in honor of spring). The frosting is delicious and I have no desire to change it, but you’ll see that mine didn’t resemble Annie’s original picture or the store version.

It’s strange to say because I always consider myself a chocolate-chip fan, but these might be some of my favorite cookies ever. It’s kind of a problem how good they are. If you’re a soft sugar-cookie fan, try this recipe.

















Cookies:
4½ cups all-purpose flour
4½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract

Frosting:
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7-8 tablespoons milk
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)
  1. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.
  2. When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter-cup of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned, if at all.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired.
Yields: About 2 dozen large cookies
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Great. I store mine in an airtight container in the freezer and they keep for weeks. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

EGG DROP SOUP

















This recipe, also from Budget Bytes, is the perfect side dish to accompany baked egg rolls in your DIY Chinese-takeout-themed meal. It’s easy, fast, and light yet nourishing…and making egg ribbons is fun. I had much more success with these than with my previous attempts in Italian wedding soup, probably because this broth is thickened slightly with cornstarch to help suspend them, or maybe just because Budget Bytes did such a good job explaining how to create a swirling vortex and drizzle them in.

The first time I made this, I figured I might as well use the whole 8-ounce package of mushrooms (the original recipe only calls for 4 ounces), but I felt that the finished soup was a bit too mushroom-heavy, so the second time I split the difference at 6 ounces. The first time I used spinach as my greens and the second time baby bok choi. The recipe’s flexible, is what I’m saying. The overall flavor is delicate, and I’m not a Sriracha fantatic, but I highly recommend stirring at least a few drops into each serving; you won’t be able to taste it exactly, but it adds just the right zip of acidity and spice to keep the soup from verging on blandness.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
4-6 ounces fresh button mushrooms, sliced
3-4 green onions, sliced
8 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 large eggs
2 cups fresh baby spinach or shredded baby bok choi leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Sriracha to taste (optional)

1. Heat the vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Ad the ginger, mushrooms, and green onions and sauté until slightly softened (5 minutes).

2. Add chicken broth and soy sauce. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a rolling boil.

3. While waiting for the soup to boil, place the cornstarch in a small bowl and add just enough water to dissolve it (about 2 tablespoons); stir together until smooth. When the soup reaches a boil, stir in the cornstarch slurry.

4. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Turn the heat off and wait for the soup to stop boiling (one minute or less; if you have an electric stove you may want to move it off the burner). Using a large spoon, swirl the soup in the pot in a circular motion. Once it’s all moving consistently in the same direction, slowly drizzle in the whisked eggs. (If you want thicker egg threads, swirl a little slower and/or pour a little faster.) Do not stir the soup for at least one minute while the eggs set. Allow the swirling current to slow to a stop on its own.

5. Once the egg threads are set, stir in the spinach or bok choi and allow to wilt, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Sriracha (I like about 5-6 drops per serving).

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. Not sure it will freeze well, but it keeps for a week in the fridge.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

BAKED EGG ROLLS

















Egg rolls are one of A’s favorite foods (after tacos), but I never considered making them at home because I’m afraid of deep-frying. It didn’t occur to me that egg rolls could be baked until I saw this recipe at Budget Bytes. I did think egg rolls that weren’t fried and didn’t contain meat might be a bridge too far for A, so following a lead in the comments, I swapped out the veggie filling for one that included pork. This took a little manipulating, since the pork version was intended for potstickers and was thus uncooked, so I ended up making a mashup of the two different recipes. Unfortunately, I didn’t take good notes, and enough time elapsed before I made these again that I didn’t remember what I’d done before and had to figure it out all over again. Luckily, the filling is forgiving.

You should know that I’m cabbage-averse, although I’m slowly warming to the stuff. I was a little put off by the thought of using a whole head, so the first time around I just bought a bag of pre-shredded cabbage from Trader Joe’s. That’s probably why I only ended up with enough filling to stuff 12 of my 20 egg roll wrappers, although this didn’t occur to me at the time. On my second attempt I increased the pork to ¾ pound, upped the carrot and green onions, and used a whole head of cabbage. (Luckily, Budget Bytes has helpful slicing instructions with photos, since I hadn’t tried to take on a head of cabbage since my CSA gave me one in 2007.) It turns out there’s a lot more cabbage in a head than in a bag! I filled 20 egg roll wrappers generously and still had a little filling left over. So maybe I should have stuck with just ½ pound pork? (A would say no.) In both iterations, the filling tasted great, which is the important thing. I even liked the cabbage.

Are baked egg rolls the same as fried ones? They aren’t going to fool anyone into thinking they’re takeout; the texture is crunchier, chewier, a bit drier (definitely have your favorite dipping sauce on hand; I love Trader Joe’s gyoza sauce, which is basically soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil with some seasonings, but sweet chili sauce or spicy mustard are also good options). I actually think I might prefer the baked version, though. Four or five plus a side dish (see my next post for that) adds up to a reasonable meal with a decent serving of fresh veggies that doesn’t feel too heavy, and they even make passable leftovers. (I think if you reheated them in the oven or toaster oven they’d regain their crispness and be near-new again, but even zapped in the microwave and thus a bit softer, they were just as tasty.)

These may be a bit more complicated than tacos, but they still weren’t too hard for a weeknight and will definitely be a regular menu feature.

½-¾ pound ground pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-inch segment fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 small head green cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 package of 20 egg roll wrappers
Nonstick spray (or additional vegetable oil)

1. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the pork and brown, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the skillet on the burner.

2. Add 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the skillet. Add the green onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté until slightly softened (1-2 minutes). Add the carrot, sauté for one minute more, and then add the cabbage and ½ teaspoon salt. Continue to cook and stir until the cabbage has reduced in volume by half.

3. Return the pork to the skillet, then add the soy sauce and cook until slightly thickened. Drizzle the sesame oil on top and stir in. Turn the heat off and add a few grindings of pepper. Give the mixture a taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Let the mixture cool slightly.

4. Begin to fill and roll the egg rolls. Place one wrapper at a time on a clean surface and place about ¼-1/3 cup of the pork mixture just off center, close to one of the corners on the square. Roll the corner up and over the filling, fold each side in, and then roll the rest of the way up. Keep a small bowl of water near by and use it as “glue” to hold the corners of the egg roll wrapper in place.

5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by covering with foil. Place the egg rolls on the baking sheet and coat with nonstick spray or brush with vegetable oil. Roll them over and spray/brush the other side with oil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Turn the egg rolls over halfway through cooking and rotate your baking sheet if you have hot spots in your oven.

Serves: 4-5 as a main dish, more as an appetizer
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Surprisingly OK. Reheat in the oven or toaster oven for best results, but microwave is fine if you don’t mind a softer texture. You can also freeze the unbaked egg rolls and just pop them into the oven without thawing, although the texture may not be as good as with the freshly made ones.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

POPCORN CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

















My work counterpart went through a phase where she was obsessed with popcorn. At least once a week she’d stop by Trader Joe’s on her lunch break and come back to her desk with a bag of cheddar or kettle corn. Then remorse would strike and she’d press me to share in her snack, which was just fine by me. So when her birthday rolled around and I wanted to bake a gift, something involving popcorn seemed a natural choice.

I remembered seeing a recipe for buttered popcorn cookies in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, but when I Googled for it, I stumbled upon this Joy the Baker adaptation that improves upon that brilliance by adding chocolate to the mix. My coworker loves the sweet-salty combo, I have a long history with chocolate popcorn, and it doesn’t really seem like a birthday without chocolate, so it’s no surprise which version I settled on.

As an homage to the recipient’s particular fixation, I used TJ’s bagged kettle corn instead of making buttered popcorn from scratch. It turned out so well (not to mention being easier) that I’d be tempted to cut this corner again in the future, but I’m leaving in the directions for popping the corn yourself in case you’re more energetic (or farther from a Trader Joe’s) than I.

No matter what, these are some excellent treats. When I plopped the dough onto the baking sheets, it looked like clumps of popcorn just barely held together by batter, but they did indeed settle into proper cookies as they baked. If popcorn cookies sound weird to you, think addictively chewy chocolate chip cookies with an extra dose of salt and an occasional bit of crunch…the perfect movie-theater contraband snack. My coworker loved them, but they’ve definitely earned a spot in my personal cookie hall of fame too.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup yellow corn kernels
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped dark chocolate
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

1. To make the popcorn, place the oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat. When oil is hot, add corn kernels in a single layer across the bottom of the pan. Cover the pot but keep the lid ajar to let a bit of steam out. Listen to the popcorn as it pops. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the burner once the popping has subsided. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and drizzle with the 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Toss well, then pick through the popcorn to remove any unpopped kernels. Set aside to cool. You’ll have about 4 to 4½ cups of popcorn.

2. Preheat then oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until butter is pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla extract for one more minute. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and beat on low until just combined. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and use a spatula to fold in the popcorn. It might seem like a disproportionate amount of popcorn considering the cookie batter, but keep folding; the popcorn will break down a bit as it’s folded in. Fold in chocolate.

4. Scoop dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with coarse sea salt. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until the edges and tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Yields: 2 dozen
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.