Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Back in my pickier eating days, raw carrot sticks were my go-to vegetable—in fact, I think I may have taken cheese, crackers, and carrot sticks to school for lunch almost every day of my K-12 education. I still grab them on occasion when I need vitamins and crunch on the go (plane trips, for instance), but let’s face it, they’re on the bland side. I wish it hadn’t taken me about a decade to realize that the way to make myself fall in love with raw carrots again was to pickle them.

I had this recipe from Sassy Radish bookmarked for more than a year before I finally took the briny plunge. As my friend S and I were planning our annual Halloween scary-but-not-too-scary filmfest and fall feast, I realized we’d need something crisp and fresh to balance out all the delicious cheese and snacks and sweets, and what could be more appropriately festive for than bright orange carrots? These pickles were a cinch to throw together and a huge hit with me, S, A and everyone else I’ve shared them with since. The flavor is a knockout, with an absolutely perfect salty-sour-sweet-spicy ratio, and I love the texture too—not mushy from cooking, just gently bathed in the hot brine enough to barely soften them and still retain their bite. They make a snappy, refreshing accompaniment for rich winter meals like goulash, and an addictive snack all year round.

I inadvertently made this recipe even better when I realized I’d run out of dill seed, couldn’t find it at any of the grocery stores I visited (note to self: Whole Foods has it), and decided to swap in cumin seed instead, on the theory that cumin and carrots often make appearances together. The pickles turned out so fantastic that now I’m afraid to mess with a good thing, and I keep right on using cumin seed even though I’ve replenished my dill supply. Other than that, the only changes I made were to use red pepper flakes instead of a whole chile, and to pack my pickles in a flat rectangular glass container because I didn’t have any appropriately sized jars, which necessitated increasing the liquid quantities just slightly so the brine covered all the carrots. I don’t normally peel my carrots and didn’t bother the first time I made this, but I went for it the second time around and do think it helps the brine penetrate, as well as resulting in prettier pickles.

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
1¼ cup cider vinegar
1¼ cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
A heaping ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon yellow mustard seed
  1. Place carrots in a large jar (or I use a shallow rectangular glass container with a lid).
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring them to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 3 minutes.
  3. Pour pickling liquid over carrots, and let cool, uncovered.
  4. Seal and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using.
Yields: 1 pound
Time: 20 minutes (plus at least 24 hours of pickling)
Leftover potential: Pretty much the whole point. Will keep in the fridge for up to a month, getting more flavorful every day.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with cauliflower yet, although I definitely like it roasted. I’ll admit I do enjoy finally being part of the club, since it’s been one of the cool-kid vegetables in recent years and avoiding it meant ignoring quite a few recipes, especially in winter. Now that I have my cauliflower radar turned on, it’s fun to see how many good-looking recipes I missed out on in the past. Case in point: this Smitten Kitchen one from way back in 2012. Fritters are totally up my alley and so is feta, but since I’m also a latecomer to pomegranate I can certainly see why I clicked right on past when this was first posted. (Although perhaps I didn’t—a search of fritter recipes on my own blog reveals that I contemplated making them nearly three years ago.) I’m a little sad that I went so long without this deliciousness in my life, but I guess there’s something to be said for finding the right thing at the exact moment you’re ready for it, or some such self-help mumbo-jumbo.

These fritters are definitely cauliflower-centric, although well-seasoned enough with lemon, garlic and red pepper to avoid the blandness I feel is one of cauliflower’s major potential pitfalls. But it’s a good gateway drug for newbies, too, since the vegetable is processed nearly beyond recognition (I cut mine perhaps a tad smaller, boiled it a tad longer and mashed it a tad smoother than the original recipe called for, and was not sorry), bound together with plenty of salty melty cheese and browned to an irresistible crisp. I implore you not to skip out on the pomegranate, which is far from just the pretty garnish I initially assumed. The pops of tart juiciness are the perfect complement to the richness of the fritters.

1 small head cauliflower (1 pound florets; i.e., stems and leaves removed), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large egg
1 garlic clove, minced
A few gratings of fresh lemon zest
3 ounces crumbled feta (about 1/2 cup)
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes; less if using regular red pepper flakes, which are hotter
¾ teaspoon table salt, plus extra to taste
½ teaspoon baking powder
Olive oil for frying
¾ cup yogurt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 large handful pomegranate arils
  1. Cook cauliflower in simmering salted water, uncovered, for about 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still somewhat firm. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Spread on towels to dry as much as possible.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, garlic and lemon zest. Add cauliflower florets and mash with a potato masher until they’re crushed into an average of pea-sized pieces (i.e. some will be bigger, some smaller, but most will be little nubs). Sprinkle in feta and stir to combine egg mixture, cauliflower and feta. In a small dish, whisk flour, salt, pepper and baking powder until evenly combined. Sprinkle over cauliflower batter and stir just until combined.
  3. Heat a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Add a good slick of oil, about 2 to 3 tablespoons. When the oil is hot, scoop a two-tablespoon-size mound of the batter and drop it into the pan, then flatten it slightly with your spoon or spatula. Repeat with additional batter, leaving a couple inches between each fritter. Once brown underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes, flip each fritter and cook on the other side until equally golden, about another 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer briefly to paper towels to drain, then to a wire rack (or keep warm in a 200-degree oven if desired).
  4. Once all fritters are cooked, mix yogurt with cumin, salt and pepper. Spread fritters on serving platter. Dollop each with cumin yogurt and sprinkle with pomegranate arils.
Serves: 2-4 (original recipe says it yields 18 two-inch fritters; I usually get about 10 slightly larger ones, which feeds both of us as a main dish with a side salad)
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. Leftover fritters can be frozen or refrigerated; reheat on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven, or in a dry skillet over medium heat, until warm and crisp.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


Now that it’s legitimately cold in Southern California and the El NiƱo rains are starting and a steaming bowl of soup sounds like the best thing ever, my list of soup recipes to make is a mile long—but this one jumped to the front of the line after I read Adam Roberts’ tender, eloquent tribute to chef Gina DePalma, its creator, who died of ovarian cancer on New Year’s. His testimonial, as well as the hundreds of glowing comments on Smitten Kitchen’s posting of the recipe, all spoke of simple, humble ingredients elevated into something beautiful and delicious. I had to try it.

Still, when the moment came, I was skeptical. I’ve come around on lentils, but they still don’t exactly scream “Cook me!” whenever I see them. And no broth, just canned tomatoes and water? What would keep it from being…well, bland? I’ve made a lot of underwhelming soups in my time. I might even venture to say that in my experience, soup recipes have a higher rate of disappointment than any other category. Sure, they rarely fail spectacularly—a so-so soup is still edible, just boring—but getting something deeply flavorful, that’s more than the sum of its parts, can be surprisingly tricky. Usually, adding some combination of salt, spice and acid can help to perk it up, but the truly good recipes seem to achieve this effortlessly.

And this is one of them! I usually default to chicken sausage, but fearing the specter of blandness, I used pork sausage. I also threw in a Parmesan rind, because I had a ton in the freezer and they work magic in soups, imparting another level of creamy savoriness. Furthermore, I think I nailed the salt level right off the bat, something I often struggle with in soups—they can cross over from tasteless to tongue-shriveling in an instant. But even if I hadn’t done any of these things, I suspect it still would have been a great pot of soup—nourishing and hearty and pretty much the culinary equivalent of a big warm hug. In a rough week like this, wrestling with loss and mourning and reminders of mortality, it was just what I needed.

Also, pro tip: After I swirled a spoonful of the sizzling garlic oil into each bowl, I still had a bit left in the pan. Fearful of making my soup too oily (although I don’t think I need have worried), and knowing A would want something to dip, I made some quickie garlic bread: Run some sliced baguette on a baking sheet under the broiler until barely browned on top, flip the pieces over, and brush them with the garlic oil. (Sprinkling on a bit of extra cheese doesn’t hurt, either.) Another minute or two under the broiler until the tops are golden, and ding! The perfect accompaniment to an excellent soup.

½ cup olive oil, divided
½ pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced, divided
Kosher salt to taste
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan rind (optional)
4 cups thinly shredded Swiss chard leaves
Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese to finish
  1. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the onion, celery, carrots, half the garlic, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water, Parmesan rind (if using), more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes.
  4. When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook about 5 minutes more, until the leaves are tender. Discard the bay leaves and Parmesan rind.
  5. To finish, divide soup among bowls, then add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet over medium heat until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle the garlic oil over soup bowls, and top with freshly grated cheese.
Serves: 6-7
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Great.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Enough salads. Time for comfort food!

While paging through this month’s Cooking Light, I came across a recipe for chicken black-bean enchiladas and instantly craved them—which is odd, because I spent many years avoiding traditional red-sauce enchiladas during my corn-tortilla-aversion days. They amplified what I hated about corn tortillas, seeming somehow both dry and soggy at the same time. (Now, of course, I love a good salsa-logged tortilla.)

This…is not that recipe. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that once the idea had been sparked, I closed the magazine and opened the Internet. Cooking Light can be great, but for my first standard-enchilada foray I wanted something more definitive, authoritative. I would say “more authentic,” except that the recipe I eventually chose, from America’s Test Kitchen via Serious Eats, admits outright that it is neither authentically Mexican nor authentically Tex-Mex (for that, see chili gravy). It is, however, what many Americans (including me) would think of as a basic enchilada, and it is thoroughly tasty. It’s also streamlined—no frying the tortillas or dipping them one by one into the sauce, two steps that always put me off enchilada-making.

It seems to be versatile, too, with Serious Eats noting that you can swap out the chicken for an equal amount of just about anything, including pulled pork or beans and greens. I only had about a pound of shredded chicken on hand, so I also added a can of black beans, bringing the dish closer to its original inspiration. I really liked the combo of textures and will probably repeat it again in the future—I did end up with a bit of extra filling, but threw it in the freezer on the assumption that it will make a great quesadilla filling for an emergency dinner someday.

The original recipe only called for cheddar, but I mixed in Monterey Jack as well, for kicks (and vague notions of authenticity). I used 14 five-inch tortillas. (By the way, have you tried TortillaLand tortillas? They’re refrigerated dough rounds that you cook fresh on a dry skillet for a few minutes just before using them, and they’re brilliant—simple ingredients with no preservatives, the next best thing to making your own. This isn’t a sponsored statement; I’ve just been completely hooked on them ever since I discovered them. The corn ones aren’t quite as good as our local Mexican market’s, but much better than mainstream grocery-store brands. The flour ones are the best I’ve ever had. Total game-changer.) I would maybe add a bit more sauce next time, because I found them just a touch dry, but the flavor was tremendous and they fed my craving exactly.

A helpful hint for my future self, as well as for you: There are a lot of variations on this recipe online, and one (I found it at Annie's Eats, which credits Pink Parsley, which credits Tide and Thyme) makes the interesting innovation of cooking the chicken in the sauce. Part of the impetus for me making enchiladas in the first place was that I had some precooked chicken in the freezer I wanted to use up, but if you don't happen to have some on hand and are starting with raw chicken, this technique is a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

Easy enchilada sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons sugar
16 ounces tomato sauce
½ cup water
3 cups (1½ pounds) shredded cooked chicken
12 ounces (3 cups) shredded Monterey Jack and/or sharp orange cheddar cheese (I recommend a mixture)
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles, drained (I used a combo of hot and mild)
½ cup minced fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
12 to 14 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  1. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, garlic, cumin, and sugar. Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Makes about 2½ cups; any extra can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or frozen for several months.)
  2. Combine the chicken, 2 cups of the cheese, ½ cup of the enchilada sauce, chiles, and cilantro in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Stack the tortillas on a plate, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave until warm and pliable, 40 to 60 seconds.
  5. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1/3 cup filling evenly down the center of each tortilla. Tightly roll the tortilla around the filling and lay seam-side-down in the baking dish.
  6. Lightly spray the enchiladas with vegetable oil spray. Pour 1 to 1½ cups of sauce all over the enchiladas so that they are thoroughly coated. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheese over the top. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the enchiladas are heated through, 20-25 minutes.
  7. Remove the foil and bake until the cheese browns slightly, about 5 minutes more.
  8. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and serve garnished with extra cilantro.
Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, January 07, 2016


Another stellar winter salad. Like the Cobb, Waldorf salad falls into the category of old-school foods I’ve only read about, and its traditional mayonnaise-based dressing ensured that I steered far away from it for the first few decades of my life. However, its core apple-walnut-cranberry combo is so classic that when I encountered this modern spin on the Waldorf at Simply Recipes, I realized it wasn’t a far cry from some of my existing favorites. I immediately envisioned it with poached chicken added in, and the original mayo dressing swapped out in favor of my beloved yogurt-Dijon vinaigrette, which basically just makes it an easier, more portable version of old reliable Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad—the only real differences (besides not-crispy chicken) being sturdy kale instead of tender greens, and the addition of celery. The result is a satisfyingly fresh, crunchy and colorful concoction, the leftovers from which are ideal to take to work for a light but satisfying weekday lunch. Even though I scoff a bit at the healthy-eating bandwagon that takes over the airwaves this time of year, this is exactly the kind of food I crave in January.

¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus extra to taste
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 bunch Tuscan kale, tough ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached, cooled and cubed
2 large sweet red apples, cored, and chopped
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  1. Whisk together the vinegar, yogurt, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper and olive oil in a small bowl.
  2. Place the sliced kale in a large bowl, drizzle with about a quarter to a third of the dressing, and mix well with your hands until each leaf is thoroughly coated. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Add the chicken, apples, celery, walnuts, and cranberries. Add the rest of the dressing (or to taste), toss to combine, and season with salt and pepper.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Great.

Monday, January 04, 2016


 OK, I probably just need to write a macro that will begin every entry expressing shame at the passage of time since my last one and determination to turn over a new leaf. 2015 was a straight-up dud in terms of quantity, with just 18 posts—the fewest in this site’s 11-year history. A lot of recipes worth remembering and sharing fell by the wayside, leaving my formerly straightforward system in disarray. But at least the cream rises to the top, and nearly every recipe I posted is one I’ve enjoyed multiple times.

I usually pick 10 favorite recipes to sum up a year, but that would be about 55% of my 2015 content right there, so I’ll whittle it down to five special gems:
  1. Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup not only introduced me to the deliciousness of cumin seed but decisively converted me to one of the year’s trendiest vegetables.
  2. Unique, easy, and delicious, Roasted Chicken With Smoked Paprika, Blood Orange, and Ginger was the perfect dish to serve to my visiting parents and celebrate my mom’s birthday.
  3. Kale Cobb Salad is A’s most regularly requested meal besides tacos, and I’m always happy to oblige.
  4. I ate pounds and pounds of the incredibly addictive Green Beans With Almond Pesto last summer.
  5. Thai Pork Tenderloin Salad got us through a sweltering and seemingly endless summer/fall, as well as sealing the deal on my new appreciation for raw cabbage.
Honorable mention, of course, goes to Blueberry Pie, with which I finally conquered my pie-making fears! I’m looking forward to baking more this year… And, dare I optimistically say, actually writing about it?

Saturday, January 02, 2016


I’m not a huge fan of the detox-and-diet trope that sweeps the food world in January, but I’m definitely feeling the need to normalize my eating after a month of travel and overindulgence. Luckily, it’s not much of a chore, since I love vegetables and am feeling pretty burned out on sweets anyway. Coming home from my Christmas vacation in Minnesota, I was craving greens and wanted a supply of light but satisfying fare to get me through the short work week, but with simple ingredients I could obtain on a lunch-break one-stop-shop at Trader Joe’s and not spend too much time cooking. I remembered a recipe from Fine Cooking via Use Real Butter I’d tried months ago that would meet all my criteria.

When I made it last summer, this farro dish seemed solid but not super—very similar to a broccoli quinoa salad I’d taken a passing fancy to a few years before (and, I’m now realizing, wrote a very similar healthy-eating intro about in January 2012). But this time, everything clicked. I especially loved the mix of browned, crisped broccoli florets with the more tender and juicy stem pieces. (And if you’re lucky enough to get any leaves on your stalks, they’re the best part! Throw them in the oven for five minutes and they take on a delightful roasted-kale quality.) For a bit more flavor and moisture, I upped the olive oil and added some lemon juice and zest, but if you don’t have citrus on hand, a extra sprinkle of vinegar would do the trick. The recipe is not only flexible but versatile: I ate it as a cold salad this summer, but we’re having what passes for a cold snap in SoCal, so I enjoyed it slightly warm this time around. It just goes to show that sometimes, in food as in love, finding a keeper is all in the timing.

1 cup farro (pearled or whole-grain)
1 to ½ pounds broccoli
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup crumbled feta
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of ½ lemon (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook until tender, about 20-30 minutes for pearled and 45-60 minutes for whole-grain. Drain and let cool.
  3. While the farro boils, break down the broccoli into bite-size florets. Don’t throw the stalks and leaves away—peel the thick outer skin away from the stalks and slice them lengthwise, then into ¼-inch pieces, and reserve any leaves for later.
  4. Toss the broccoli florets and stalks with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring periodically, until the pieces are tender and browned at the edges. About five minutes before the end of the cooking time, toss in the leaves and roast until crisp.
  5. Add the broccoli, feta, green onions, red pepper flakes, and parsley to the farro in a large bowl. Sprinkle with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon zest and/or juice if desired. Toss everything together and serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 to 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Great!