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Category: Recipes

Peaches & Rainbows

Over the last three weeks, I’ve made it a point to limit the purchasing of edible items to almost nothing, aside from what’s needed for simple, quick cooking and things that move easily. Also, I’m not buying items I already have in storage. That said, things like soy sauce and sriracha made the cut, but things like flour and butter didn’t.

Of course, all of my 10+ flours might very well be rancid by the time I get to them next weekend, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take in hopes of avoiding starting completely from scratch in the kitchen.

Cornmeal Blueberry Cookies

I think that’s why I forced nudged Chris to make a candy bar run earlier this week; I was craving something sweet some kinda fiercely, and even though I hadn’t eaten a Whatchamacallit in years, it seemed like the only appropriate solution. You see, I’m used to having immediate access to things like blenders, mixers, muffin tins, baking sheets, etc. This little temporary ‘kitchen’ has none of the above (I think I’ve already mentioned that about 10 times before, right?!). To that, add the fact that I was already living without my personal belongings for a month, and that equals exactly 2 months of this crap. What can I say; I caved, and I’m sayin’ it loud and proud. (That was a damn good Whatchamacallit.)

 

But let’s put things in perspective here; while these 2 months haven’t been peaches and rainbows per se, they haven’t been storm clouds and gremlins either. I mean for reals, we’ve had multiple bouts of amazing get-togethers, dinners, drinks, and the like as a result of this move. I didn’t even pay for most of them (lesson: if you want free drinks and dinners, move outta state ;)).

We even threw ourselves a going-away party a couple of months ago, where I decided to whip out a few treats, including these cookies I also started thinking about this week. Hard to believe it’s been that long since I baked cookies, or used my own cutting board, or had access to those dried blueberries that are waiting in storage, but it has.

Cornmeal Blueberry Cookies

When I find all of those items I’ve been sorely missing, a few of the first things I’m going to do include buying some butter along with a few other essential items, taking a nap on my long-lost couch, maybe unpacking a few boxes (the one with the flour and dried blueberries, for example), and then high-tailing it into the kitchen and making some cookies.

There will not be leftovers, either.

 

Cornmeal Blueberry Cookies
adapted from Good to the Grain; makes about 3 dozen

I am a huge lover of cookies of all shapes, flavors, and sizes, but non-traditional cookies hold a very special place in my heart, or belly. these aren’t your average cookies; they are sweet and chewy, but not overpowering on the dessert scale. in fact, you could probably eat a couple for breakfast without feeling too bad about it. dried blueberries are somewhat pricey (i get mine from Costco), but they are so perfect in this recipe. i’m sure you could use other dried fruits, but if they’re larger than blueberries (pea-sized), you’ll want to give ’em a rough chopping.

oh, and these cookies are definitely best eaten the day they’re prepared. they have a tendency to harden quickly, so either eat them the day of or store in an airtight container. i’m guessing you could halve the recipe if you don’t want this many, or even freeze pre-baked, rolled and coated dough, adding a couple of minutes to the baking time and baking straight from the freezer.

time commitment: about 1 hour, half of which is active and half of which involves smelling these things bake.

ingredients

  • 2 c corn flour
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c finely ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 2 t cream of tartar
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 c brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 c dried blueberries (see above)
  • 1/2 c sugar, for finishing

 

instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat, or spray with cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients (corn flour through salt) and whisk for a couple of minutes to break up any chunks (Boyce’s recipe says to sift these ingredients together, but I can’t seem to get behind sifting ingredients, although who knows, maybe it does really impact the recipe…).
  • Add the butter and the brown sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer). Turn the mixer to low speed and mix until the butter and sugar are combined, then increase the mixer speed to medium and cream for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the milk and the blueberries. Slowly mix until the dough is evenly combined.
  • Pour the finishing sugar into a bowl. Scoop mounds of dough, each about 3 tablespoons in size, form them into balls and set them on a plate. Dip each ball into the sugar, coating it lightly. Arrange the balls on the baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between them. Chill any remaining dough until ready to use.
  • Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. The cookies will puff up and crack at the tops and are ready to come out when the sugar crust is golden brown and the cracks are still a light yellow. They will appear soft, but will harden and cook more when removed from the oven.
  • Repeat with the remaining dough.

Will Work for Baklava

Earlier this year I left my first job out of grad school. My profession initially appealed to me as a result of its many subspecialties, and I loved knowing I could change from working in pediatric genetics to adult cancer genetics any time I chose, providing there was a job opening, of course. Leaving my previous position was a long and grueling process, and although I love my new job, (did I mention I work normal hours and still get my clinic notes finished?) I have to be honest – I think about those people every day and miss them immensely. Most of them.

You know what else I’ll miss? That honkin’ box that arrived in our suite every Christmas from Harry and David. Sure, the box had great pears and chocolate-covered blueberries, but it also had one of the sweetest of all sweets. Baklava. Had I not shared an office in a tiny pediatric clinic, I swear I would have squirreled away the entire lot. And maybe some of those blueberries too.

toasted hazelnuts

I won’t lie. When I saw a recipe for baklava in a recent Food & Wine magazine, I immediately took a little stroll down memory lane and thought of that lovely box. I thought of all the ways I adored baklava and its’ crunchy, rich, chewy and almost-too-sweet-for-even-a-sweet-tooth-like-me self. I could almost taste it and couldn’t wait until December. Until I realized that part of leaving that job included leaving baklava. That made me very sad.

Then I got a bit frightened. And by his point I was sweating and shaking just thinking about the stuff. I looked like Jason Patric in Rush. I was also a little frantic just thinking about making this delicacy, but I knew at this point there was no turning back. I’d already crossed the line and geez Louise that’s a line you can’t back-cross. Not when baklava is right around the corner. And so I set up my baklava-making station and to work I went.

It’s not that I’m terrified of phyllo dough. I’d used it a few times. In fact, one of Chris’ favorite dishes is a Morroccan pie made with a phyllo crust. It’s just that my memory of baklava was held in such high esteem and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to satisfy that pedestaled taste.

But by golly. Need I say more? I mean, just look at it.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Baklava
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2009; makes 24 pieces

Printable version

As if baklava weren’t good enough the classical way, this recipe has chocolate in it. Eeep!! And rather than the traditional (just ask my buddy J Simps) pistachio filling, this uses hazelnuts. I’m willing to bet you could substitute any nutty combo although I’ve thought long and hard and just can’t think of a better choice. But maybe hazelnuts aren’t your bag.

ps: baklava freezes like a dream. Just wrap it up and stow it away. I took some out over Labor Day weekend and it was good as new.

ingredients
1 lb hazelnuts
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 T cinnamon, divided
1 lb phyllo dough, thawed and ready to use
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups honey

instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread nuts on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until skins are blistered; let cool for a few. Transfer to kitchen towel and rub off the skins, then transfer to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Note: the de-skinning might take a while, so sit down for it 😉

2. Add chocolate, 2/3 c of sugar, and 1 1/2 T cinnamon to processor and pulse until finely chopped and of equal consistency.

3. Unwrap phyllo and cover with sheet of plastic wrap. Generously butter a 9×13 metal baking pan. Butter and stack 8 sheets of phyllo. Note: it’s ok if some break during this. You’ll use most of the sheets but if some are just horrendously broken, discard it. You have to move fast with the phyllo and keep it covered when you aren’t using it. Trim the edges of the phyllo so they don’t stick together (just a tad). Ease stack into the pan (there will be overlap). Sprinkle about 2 cups of filling over phyllo. Butter and stack 2 more sheets; fold them in half cross-wise and place over filling (should fit perfectly into pan). Sprinkle another 2 cups of filling. Butter and stack 2 more and repeat with folding and filling. Butter and stack 3 sheets and fold crosswise over filling. Fold in overhang from bottom layer and brush generously with butter. Cut into 12 squares, then cut each in half to make 24 triangles.

4. Bake baklava 25 minutes, then lower temp to 300 F and bake for 50 more. Will be golden.

5. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring water, honey, sugar and 1/2 T cinnamon to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for ~10 minutes. Immediately ladle hot syrup over hot baklava (right when it comes out of the oven) and let stand until completely cool, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. It does not need to be refrigerated.

BARBEQUE: GOODER THAN SNUFF

BARBEQUE

Have ya’ll ever been to North Kakalaka? Let’s just say, if you haven’t, and if you ever do, a little preparation for the lingo might benefit you or else you may find yourself ‘running around like a chicken with its’ head cut off’. I am Southern, after all; it’s only fittin’ that I use my manners and translate a few for you :). So here we go.

Hug your neck: this is how we talk about showing affection. “Aunt Faye, that fried chicken looks so good it makes me wanna hug your neck!”

Bless his/her heart: this is what you say in the same sentence before you say something that’s not very nice. “Bless his heart, that boy has a face only a mother could love!”

BARBEQUE

Fixin’ to: what you say when you’re about to do something. “I’m fixing to warm up some of this tasty leftover barbeque.”

Gooder than snuff: when something is really, really great. “This vinegar-based barbeque sauce you made is gooder than snuff.”

Fit to be tied: angry. “When Ralph dropped that pe-can pie on the floor, Luna was fit to be tied.”

Down yonder: further down the road. “The best barbeque in Duplin County is down yonder on Hwy 13.”

BARBEQUE

Barbeque: this is not what you non-Southerners use as a verb, which is actually ‘grilling’. Barbeque is a noun, and there are many different barbeque varieties in the South. “The only barbeque I care to eat is from Eastern North Carolina.”

Full as a tick: basically, when you have eaten so much you’re about to explode. “I ate so much barbeque and red velvet cake that I was full as a tick.”

Clearly, this here list is not all-inclusive. Do you know some more? While you’re thinkin’ about it, consider trying your hand at one of my favorite Southern dishes, eastern NC bbq. And don’t you dare consider using another kind of sauce – vinegar-based is the only way to go. Don’t ruffle my feathers, now!

BARBEQUE

Eastern NC-Style Slow Roasted Pulled Pork
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009; serves 16

if you’ve got barbeque joints in your backyard, you may not feel the need to make your own. but up here in the midwest, it’s a necessity. if you do use bone-in, allow extra time to let the pork tenderize even more. if you need less time, boneless works just as well. serve with Southern-style coleslaw – either on the side, on your samich, or both (like me).

printable version

ingredients
2 T dark brown sugar
1 T smoked paprika
1 T chili powder
1 t salt
2 t ground cumin
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t dry mustard
1/2 t ground chipotle chile pepper
1 (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed
2 c water, divided
1 t liquid smoke
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/3 c ketchup
vinegar-based Eastern NC bbq sauce (recipe below)

instructions
To prepare pork, combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub sugar mixture evenly over pork. Let pork stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 225°.

Place pork on the rack of a roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Pour 1 cup water in bottom of roasting pan. Place rack in pan. Bake at 225° for 1 hour.

Combine 1/2 cup vinegar and ketchup in a medium bowl; brush pork with ketchup mixture (do not remove from oven). Bake an additional 3 hours, basting every hour with ketchup mixture.

Pour remaining 1 cup water in bottom of roasting pan. Cover pork and pan tightly with foil. Bake an additional 3 3/4 hours or until a thermometer registers 190°. Remove from oven; let stand, covered, 45 minutes.

Vinegar-Based Eastern NC bbq Sauce
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 cups

printable version (sauce only)

ingredients
1.5 c apple cider vinegar
1 c water
1 T tomato paste
4 T dark brown sugar
1 T crushed red pepper flakes
2 t smoked paprika
1 t chile powder

instructions
combine all ingredients in small saucepan and bring to boil. reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. add more red pepper flake, if desired.

Born on a Bayou

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya

It isn’t too terribly often (or ever) that Chris gets so excited about something in the kitchen that he whips out his iPhone, snaps a quick photo, and Facebooks it. But when he does, I know it’s going to be an extra-special meal.

These are the meals that can’t go long without a mention here, for fear that I’m leaving you out of something really awesome. I’d feel really bad if I did, you see.

My somewhat long commute has led me to develop a cooking tradition, of sorts. Weeknights are now reserved for meals that take less than 1 hour to make, from start to finish. I used to tackle arduous meals on any day, be it Friday with a nice glass of wine at my side, or Tuesday with silence in the house, other than the sounds of my knife tapping the board, piles of vegetables slain and piled high as mountains, and an oven heating up to 350.

Things are different now. Driving 2 hours each day is enough to make you ten times more tired when you get home, no matter how stressful or boring your actual day in the office was. I have to fit in exercise too, (who am I kidding; this is once-a-week endeavor at best right now) writing here, and last but certainly not least, finishing the last season of Castle on Netflix.

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya

This leaves the weekends for the hefty meals, the labors of love, the ones your gramma used to make every day like it was her job. Probably because it was her job, at least it was in my family. This is one of those meals: two hours from start to finish, and every minute is well worth it. And one more thing: the cost of groceries is, too.

This here, my friends, is a gigantic pot of goodness that will feed your whole block, or building, or the two of you for at least a week. And that’s the beauty – all that time is a bargain, when you sit right down and do the calculations. Check it out: 2 hours of work + 10 servings of the most amazing jambalaya on the west coast = 12 minutes per serving. If you roll like I do, and choose to use this dish for another dinner and a couple of lunches, you’ve also cut some kitchen time outta the work week too, which some would consider a bonus.

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya

Now let me tell you about this slice of heaven before you. For starters, there is so much meat in this recipe that you won’t be able to take a bite without it, even if you tried. It is so spicy, in a good way, that you want to pack your bags, hop on a plane, and fly straight to New Orleans to eat everything Creole in sight because you just can’t get enough. It’s more than plenty to feed a crowd, if you want to share, but the leftovers heat perfectly, and I can attest to that wholeheartedly, as evidenced by the bowl I just emptied 4 nights later.

And probably (probably) most importantly – it will make you the most wonderful mammal in your house for at least a couple of hours afterwards. That is, until you start nagging about the dishes…

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya

Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011; serves at least 10

time commitment: 2 hours, half of which is active

printable version

ingredients

12 oz applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 1/2 lbs linguiça (or other smoked, cooked sausage), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick semi-circles
1 lb andouille sausages, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 lbs onions, chopped (4 to 5 cups)
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 T paprika
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 T chili powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 28-oz can fire-roasted diced tomaties
1 small can diced green chiles
2 1/2 c beef broth
3 c (19 to 20 ounces) Basmati rice, uncooked
8 green onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
salt and pepper
Chopped fresh Italian parsley

instructions

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 F. Cook bacon in very large pot over medium-high heat until brown but not yet crisp, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes. Add smoked sausage, andouille, and ham. Sauté until meats start to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Mix in chicken. Cook until outside of chicken turns white, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Mix in paprika, thyme, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Cook 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, chiles, and broth; stir to blend well. Add more cayenne, if desired. Mix in rice.

Bring jambalaya to boil. Cover pot. Place in oven and bake until rice is tender and liquids are absorbed, 45 minutes. Uncover pot. Mix chopped green onions into jambalaya and season with salt and pepper to taste; sprinkle jambalaya with chopped parsley and serve.

Waiting is Overrated

tomatoes

I have had a huge hankering for tomatoes lately. Huge. They’ve slowly been inching their way into our markets – every weekend I dash down the street (okay okay, I stroll; I couldn’t dash if I tried these days) to see if there’s a burgeoning table of wayward-shaped heirlooms in need of a handful of my cash-money. Instead, I see a corner of lonely tomatoes, the same corner that once housed a crate of greens, or maybe some stray box of strawberries.

Damnit, I want that big table of tomatoes already. I have a list of things I want to do with them, and I am growing impatient. Can you tell?

tomatoes

I want to make another panzanella salad, because I haven’t made one since I made this one two years ago! But this time, I want to load it with ‘maters. And sourdough bread, of course.

I want to can plenty of tomato sauce, and make barbeque sauce, and plenty of sriracha ketchup. I want to make buttermilk dressing and slather it all over sliced heirloom tomatoes. And myself. That’s not weird, is it?

tomatoes

I want to make my own harissa. Now let me be clear – the store-bought harissa is totally legit, but I’m sort of a fan of making condiments. Sort of.

I also wouldn’t mind some gazpacho right about now. That sounds like something I could definitely get behind. Or in front of. Or in my mouth. Whatevs.

tomatoes

I wanted to wait to stuff some ‘maters, like my old bosslady did a few months ago, but I really just couldn’t wait any longer. Plus, I’ve been cooking through Heidi Swanson’s new book like it’s goin’ outta style, and I decided that the Whole Foods tomatoes would just have to do because the earmark on the page was near ’bout worn off.

I also couldn’t help myself from throwing a slice of cheese on top, because when has mozzarella cheese and a tomato ever been a bad thing?

Sometimes waiting is so overrated, isn’t it?

tomatoes

Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active time)

this is a relatively versatile recipe. except! don’t use millet in your tomatoes, as i accidentally did the first time i tried this recipe. you could use a grain of similar texture, more than likely. quinoa maybe? a pesto filling would work well in place of harissa and any other spices/seasonings to put a different twist on it sound fabulous too. if you want a meat-filled tomato, check out this ‘winning recipe‘.

printable version

ingredients

4 large, ripe, red tomatoes
1/3 c plain yogurt
2 T store-bought harissa (tomato-based)
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped into thin strips (chiffonade)
1 shallot, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 c couscous, uncooked
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 slices
olive oil, for drizzling

instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the top 10% off of each tomato. Working over a large bowl (and using a grapefruit spoon if you have one, but if not a regular spoon works too), scoop the flesh out of each tomato, being careful not to puncture the sides. Let the pulp and juice fall into the bowl. Chop up any large pieces. Arrange shells of tomatoes in a small, glass baking dish.

In the same bowl, combine 1/2 c of the tomato pulp/juice (discard the rest, which shouldn’t be too much) with yogurt, harissa, basil (leave a little to garnish), shallots, and salt/pepper to taste. Add couscous and stir to combine. Stuff filling into each tomato shell, filling as much as possible.

Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Add mozzarella strips to the top of each tomato and bake another 5-7 minutes, until melted and gooey. Remove from oven, drizzle with a little olive oil and pepper, and garnish with remaining basil.

Top of My List

burger

July absolutely has to be one of my very favorite months. I’m also a big fan of November (because of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday). September and October aren’t too bad, either. And while I’m at it, I may as well throw in August, which means we are clearly at the very beginning of all of my favorite times of the year. Let the games begin.

For now though, I’m going to keep it together and just talk about July.

burger

When I think about July, a few things come to mind. First and foremost is Summer, and that’s probably because I’ve lived in Chicago for so long. It doesn’t always warm up in May and June there, although from what I’ve heard, this year has been a little toasty. Here in San Francisco, it seems to always be sunny in at least one part of the city, although it’s certainly not always warm, so to speak. That said, we haven’t grilled out nearly as much as we normally would, but I think the warm weather is right around the corner, and for that I’m thankful.

I also think about fruit – cherries, blueberries, watermelon, and all those berries with seeds that sorta get on my nerves. Peaches. Which reminds me – I need to bust out a cobbler or something, like yesterday. And some ice cream, but I’ve got an ice cream recipe in queue that I’m guessing is gonna knock my socks off (yes, I still sleep in socks, even in July).

burger

This year, July means biking through Golden Gate Park or back over to the bridge, and hopefully a road trip over to Tomales Bay for oysters, and maybe some more Stairway Walks (more on those later) and neighborhood hang-outs. Maybe even another baseball game? or is that being too optimistic? We are halfway through this month, I’m aware.

Clearly, many things have changed over this past year, location-wise most definitely, but some things haven’t; one of those is my adoration for this month, and really, all months, but I’m trying to be specific here. July truly is at the top of my list.

burger

And last but certainly not least, July = burger time. Check this out: we’ve had burgers in July for three years in a row, and that’s sayin’ somethin’. Last year, I waxed poetic about getting a meat grinder attachment, and this year I finally did it. Of course, it sat in storage for a while, and even though I’ve had the thing for months, I have used it now for the first time. But like I said last year, the meat grinder is some kinda awesome, and I finally proved it to myself that I needed to get one (ok, use one) a long time ago.

With said ground meat, I churned out a relatively quick and easy burger recipe, sans grill: griddled smash burgers. It’s not a bad idea, really. Heat up your griddle (or pan, if you’re not into pancakes enough to have a griddle specifically for flapjacks), ball up some ground meat, and smash ‘em onto the surface, letting the juices sizzle away, smoking up your house almost enough to flip the smoke alarm. Smoosh some onions into them, and finish them off with cheddar cheese and pickles; simple and quick is key here.

Put them on a plate with some baked ‘french fries’, and let the rays of the sun shine on ‘em like a pot o’ gold at the end of a rainbow. Two seconds later, eat them as quickly as possible – we’ve got a lot left to do now, and half of July’s already passed us by.

burger

Cheddar & Onion Smashed Burgers

Adapted from Food & Wine, June 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients

16 thin bread-and-butter pickle slices, patted dry
4 burger buns, toasted
1 1/4 lb ground beef chuck (30 percent fat)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 small onions, sliced paper thin
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, sliced
ketchup, and other fixin’s that you choose

instructions

If you’re into this sorta thing, grind your own meat, which takes about 5 minutes if you have a good grinder.

Heat a griddle until very hot. If you don’t have a griddle, you can probably use a frying pan on high heat, but I used a griddle that is normally used for pancakes 😉 . Layer the pickle slices on the bottom buns.

Without overworking the meat, loosely form it into 4 balls and place them on the griddle. Cook the meatballs over moderately high heat for 30 seconds. Using a sturdy large spatula, flatten each ball into a 5-inch round patty. Season the patties with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until well seared. Press a handful of sliced onions onto each patty. Using the spatula, carefully flip each burger so the onions are on the bottom. Top with the cheese and cook for 2 minutes. Cover with a roasting pan and cook just until the cheese is melted, 1 minute more. Transfer the burgers with the onions to the buns. Top with the ketchup, any other fixin’s, buns and serve.

 

Otto-who? Otto-what?

Otto

Over a year ago, I had this crazy idea of going vegetarian. Okay, I’m not telling the truth here. I had the idea of going pescatarian, and only for a month – it was not to be a permanent change. It seemed doable, and this is coming from someone who tends to really like meat. I fought my way through it, even tossing away a lovely piece of pork that I mistakenly ordered, thinking it was a dish full of wheat berries and ramps (don’t ask how I screwed up there….). I didn’t order beef pho the first time I went to a place that served it, and at a tapas restaurant, I chewed on cheese and peppers, drank lots of wine, and tossed back mussels like it was my job.

All in all, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Would I ever give up meat completely? I seriously doubt it. For one, I couldn’t imagine a visit to the South without barbeque (not the fake stuff). And two, I love the smell of cheeseburgers on the grill. Also, bacon is pretty awesome.

Otto

But sometimes, I do manage to go a few days without eating meat, and I can honestly say that I usually don’t even notice it. I’d even go further to say that, sometimes, eating vegetarian is a lot healthier, as long as you watch the cheese and carbs.

It seems that every time I talk about vegetarian food, I feel the need to insure you people that I do not intend to eat this way full-time. I’m not sure why? Maybe because I know many of you enjoy the meaty posts, and I assure you they are here to stay.

Otto

But the other day, I discovered lentils. Don’t ask me why I’ve never cooked them before; I have no intelligent answer. A friend of mine let me borrow a cookbook of hers that is all-vegetarian, and while I didn’t expect this to be the case, I have a lot of the pages marked and as a result, wonder if I should just buy the dang thing myself.

Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is that book. And of course, I’ve cooked a slew of things (no, I haven’t written about them all) from Heidi Swanson’s new book too, which also happens to be vegetarian. What I’ve realized is this: as long as flavor is brought to the dish, I don’t miss the meat. But the second you make something bland and boring, I may as well be eating tofu from the container. Or tempeh, which is still gross to me.

Otto

Ottolenghi seems to know what’s up on that front. His secret? He’s not vegetarian. Of course, some people seem to have a problem with that, but for me, it’s a match made in heaven. He knows that meat tastes good, and he knows that many vegetarian dishes lack flavor. The result? He makes his recipes scream with flavor, belting out ingredients like mustard seeds and curry powder, fenugreek and pomegranate molasses – and it works.

Also! he made me fall madly in love with lentils, an ingredient I’ve never really taken an interest in before. So yeah, maybe I just realized that I’m probably never giving this cookbook back to my friend (shhhhh!), and maybe as long as I locate vegetarian recipes that are actually locked and loaded with flavor I’ll be able to eat somewhat like a ‘flexitarian’, or whatever it’s called. But at the end of the day, I’m sticking to my beliefs – and that’s that meat is meant for me to eat, and I was meant to eat meat.

Otto

Spiced Red Lentils with Cucumber Yogurt

adapted from Plenty; serves 4 as a light dinner

time commitment: 1 hour, about half of which is active

printable version

notice the piece of naan tucked alongside this dish. I didn’t make it this time, but you can. Or you can just buy some 🙂 . also, one of these spices is possibly tricky to find: fenugreek. It’s nice, if you have it, but don’t sweat it if you don’t.

ingredients

1 c split red lentils
1 1/2 c water
half a regular bunch of cilantro
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 1-2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chile
1 1/2 t black mustard seeds
4 T sunflower oil
1 1/2 t g coriander
1 t g cumin
1/2 t g turmeric
1/4 t sweet paprika
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 t sugar
1/4 t fenugreek (if you can find it)
1 small container of Greek yogurt
1/2 of a cucumber, finely diced
1 1/2 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 1/2 T fresh lime juice
salt and pepper

instructions

wash the lentils under cold water and pour into a bowl with the water. let soak for 30 minutes. get the rest of your ingredients ready and chopped.

meanwhile, cut the cilantro bunch halfway between the top and bottom. give the leaf top a rough chop and set aside. add the bottom stalky part to a food processor along with the onion, ginger, garlic and chili. pulse a few times until ingredients are broken up, but not pasty.

grab a heavy pot (Dutch oven time!) and turn on medium heat. add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the chopped mixture and the sunflower oil. cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. add the coriander through the paprika, and continue cooking/stirring for five minutes. the mixture may appear very dark, which is just fine.

add the lentils and their soaking water, tomatoes, sugar, and fenugreek, as well as a little salt. cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked. you’ll probably want to check on them occasionally, as mine were about 5 minutes overdone since I abandoned the kitchen for too long…

meanwhile, make the yogurt by whisking the yogurt, cucumber, and olive oil together. add salt and pepper to taste.

once the lentils are cooked, stir in the butter, lime juice, and most of the cilantro leaves. season with salt/pepper if needed. divide into 4 dishes, topping each with a large dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves to garnish.

What Barbeque Isn’t

It has become widely apparent to me that there are some key differences between the East and the West. And now, I don’t mean the World here, I just mean the wee ol’ United States. The red, the white, and the blue. Happy Belated Birthday, by the way, America. The San Francisco fireworks in your honor were just plain lovely, after I stopped thinking about the regretful act of not wearing socks that night.

There were a plethora of other lovelies this past holiday weekend too: grillin’ out with friends on Saturday, starting to walk through a great new book on Sunday, and a baseball game finished off by said fireworks on Monday. Why can’t all weekends be that awesome (minus the sunburn)?!

Barbeque

But let’s get back to the matter at hand. Throughout the course of the past week, I have without a doubt deduced one clear, glaring difference between East and West, and this isn’t to say that there aren’t quite a few, but alas. I have what may be the most important discrepancy: the definition of “barbeque” (aka barbecue).

I’d like to direct your attention to the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbecue. Yes, Wikipedia, the source of all sources.

Barbeque

You can read through the whole article, if you wish. It’s actually rather interesting. But what I’d like to call your attention to is the following paragraph:

“The word barbecue is also used to refer to a social gathering where food is served, usually outdoors in the late afternoon or evening. In the southern USA, outdoor gatherings are not typically called “barbecues” unless barbecue itself will actually be on the menu, instead generally favoring the word “cookouts”. The device used for cooking at a barbecue is commonly referred to as a “barbecue”, “barbecue grill”, or “grill”. In North Carolina, however, “barbecue” is a noun primarily referring to the food and never used by native North Carolinians to describe the act of cooking or the device on which the meat is cooked.”

Here’s the issue: I found myself eating around a grill 4 separate times this past week from Thursday through Monday. Not once did I partake in, or make use of a, barbeque. Often times, I had to confusingly ask for clarification. Here’s one example.

Co-worker: “Are you coming to the barbeque at lunch today? It’s free.”

Me: “Free? Yes! Where is the pig being cooked?”

Co-worker: (insert strange look on face) “Huh?”

Me: “Oh, yeah, right. What you mean to say is there are some meat items that have been grilled, and that is free, right?”

Co-worker: “Yeah. A barbeque.”

Either way, the grilled meat was good. But it ain’t barbeque.

Barbeque

And neither is this chicken, although a grill was most certainly part of the festivities. It doesn’t make it less good, I promise. But there is right and there is wrong in this world, and to say barbeque for something that has a pig nowhere in sight is just plain wrong. Although, I should be clear here, and state my one exception: you can called chicken ‘barbequed chicken’ IF there is a barbeque sauce involved, but that’s still a stretch, and in that sense it really is only referring to the fact that it’s chicken, with barbeque sauce, and not necessarily grilled, either.

Agree? Agree to disagree? Tell me more. Maybe one day I’ll learn to turn the other cheek at this craziness; probably not. And since I am out West, and unlikely to find any truly original REAL barbeque, I’ll settle for grilled meats instead. Because, really, what’s not to love about a grill, anyway?

Barbeque

Grilled Chicken with Za’atar
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~3 hours, plus overnight marinating (most is inactive time; everything can be made in advance, leaving only grilling chicken for the day of)

i’m including the original recipe amounts here, but this is easily adaptable to a crowd, as we practically quadrupled the recipe with no problems, scaling back on the marinade just a tad. the chicken is great by itself, or with either/both of the dipping sauces below. also, I don’t tend to remove seeds from peppers, as we like things spicy in our house, and we like to torture our guests. feel free to remove them if you’re feeling sheepish.

printable version

ingredients
marinade
2 heads of garlic, top third cut off
5 T olive oil, divided
1 1/2 t lemon zest
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 small serrano chile, minced
2 t dried marjoram

za’atar
1 T chopped fresh marjoram
1 T sumac
1 T ground cumin
1 T roasted sesame seeds
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

1 whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces (breast, wing, thigh/leg)
salt/pepper
1 T olive oil

instructions
Preheat oven to 400 F. Put garlic on a large sheet of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and wrap tightly with foil. Roast until tender and golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the remainder of the marinade and the za’atar. In a medium bowl, add 4 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, chile, and marjoram; whisk to blend. When garlic is cooled, squeeze roasted cloves out of skins and into the same bowl; mash into a paste with the back of a fork and whisk all ingredients together.

For the za’atar, combine marjoram through black pepper in a small bowl.

Place chicken pieces in a glass baking dish or large bowl. Sprinkle 2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar over chicken. Pour marinade over chicken; turn to coat. Cover; chill overnight.

Season chicken with salt and pepper; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush grill rack with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Grill chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is crisp and browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of thigh without touching bone reads 160°, about 40 minutes, more or less for some pieces and depending on the size. Transfer chicken to a platter, sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon za’atar, and let rest 10 minutes.

Serve by itself, or with cumin aioli and green harissa (recipes below).

 

Cumin Aioli
from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 cup

printable version

ingredients

1 t cumin seeds
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 c grapeseed oil
1/4 c evoo
Kosher salt

instructions
Stir cumin in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2 minutes; let cool. Coarsely grind in a spice mill. Whisk yolks, lemon juice, and garlic in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly pour in grapeseed oil drop by drop, then olive oil, whisking vigorously until emulsified. Whisk in cumin and 1/2 t water. Season with salt. Cover; chill.

 

Green Harissa

from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1/2 cup

 

printable version

ingredients

1 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 c chopped spinach
1/4 c evoo
1 garlic clove, minced
1 serrano chile, minced
1/4 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cumin
Kosher salt

instructions

Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. Season harissa to taste with salt.

Great Balls of Fire

Great Balls of Fire

I am on a huge Indian kick lately. You wouldn’t know it from what you’ve seen posted around these parts lately, but I’m dead serious. Those of you living in the Bay Area already know this – there are a plethora of Indian eateries around these parts. Because of that, I’ve decided that Indian food is my new favorite take-out staple.

Sorry, Thai food, but I’m giving you the boot for a while. Maybe forever. It’s just that no one seems to make my yum woonsen salad like Thai Lagoon did, and it didn’t hurt that they were exactly 6 doors away from our house.

Great Balls of Fire

We ordered take-out from the neighborhood Indian joint the first weekend we lived here, and I was immediately sold. I ordered a HUGE “combo meal” the weekend Chris was in Singapore, and while sopping up my chana masala with garlic naan, I happily watched Something Borrowed (laugh it up) and almost drank an entire bottle of New Zealand Pinot by my lonesome. It was amazing (the food and the wine, that is. the movie served its purpose, which meant I was able to choose the movie for a change, because no one was home!!).

I’m sure we’ve had takeout from the same spot at least a handful of other times too. Despite their unwelcoming demeanor when I walk in to pick up my order, I always graciously take my food, somehow deciding that they’re allowed to have shoddy service so long as my food rocks, because in the end, we all win.

Great Balls of Fire

I decided I must learn to make chana masala, the tomato-y chickpea dish that I get almost every time I get Indian food, and as a result I surfed the Internets to figure out where I might find such a recipe, and for that matter, a good Indian cookbook. After Googling and Amazon-ing for a while, I finally decided on Madhur Jaffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking“, and although I’ve yet to cook from it, I am slowly perusing through it, waiting for the right moment to finally give that chana masala a try, and the other recipes I’ve bookmarked so far.

Today though, I’m sharing a recipe from another Indian chef I admittedly adore watching, Aarti Sequiera on the Food Network. She won “The Next Food Network Star” a while back (actually, the last season we watched it), and I was rooting for her all the way. Sure, part of it was because she wrote a food blog (and ironically just posted a recipe for chana masala), but the other part was because I really wanted an Indian cooking show to watch. Plus, I can only take so much of Giada’s boobs (or her large head, for that matter), and the other shows on that channel (other than Iron Chef, duh) are pretty lame. But! I did just learn that Michael Chiarello (of Napa’s Bottega) is going to be on The Next Iron Chef, and you best believe that will be DVR’d with a quickness.

Great Balls of Fire

So yeah, on to sharing. We had some friends in town this past weekend, and since they were coming in right around suppertime on Thursday night I’d volunteered to make dinner. My requirements were that the dish had to be straightforward, void of constant tending-to, manageable on a weeknight (night before prep a plus), and easy enough to make for 5 people without dirtying up every dish in the house. A homemade curry was a no brainer, and I remembered a recipe Aarti made the other day where she added an Italian twist (meatballs) to a curry dish – perfect!

The meatballs were easy peasy to throw together, and they probably benefit from being refrigerated overnight anyway, so that they can adhere together a little better. Plus, it saved me some time the night I made it since step 1 was already complete. The Serrano chiles were super spicy and perfect with the creamy coconut curry. The recipe below is essentially a doubled version of hers, which is meant to serve 8, but either our guests were starving or it was that damn good, because there was 1 serving left by the time it was all said and done.

The added bonus? You’ll probably have some leftover sauce when all the meatballs have been eaten, and I just know it’ll go with just about anything you toss into it. Better yet, a spoon would probably work just fine.

Great Balls of Fire

Meatball Curry

Adapted from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira; serves 6-8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes

 

printable version

ingredients

meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
2 serrano chiles, minced (I seeded one of them)
4 t fresh ginger, minced
4 T fresh cilantro, minced
Kosher salt

curry
5 T coconut oil or canola oil
1 t brown mustard seeds
8 small shallots, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 (2-inch piece) ginger, peeled and minced
4 t g coriander
2 t g cumin
1 t cayenne pepper
4 medium tomatoes, medium dice
2 cans light coconut milk
Kosher salt
3 T fresh cilantro, minced
juice of 1 lime

1 1/2 c uncooked jasmine or basmati rice

 

instructions
for the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, chile, ginger, cilantro and 2 teaspoons of salt together using your hands until just combined. (Don’t mix any more than this or you’ll end up with tough meatballs!) Roll the meatballs into 32 similarly-shaped balls, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the fridge when they’re all rolled until ready for use.

for the curry: In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil until nearly smoking. Add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid so you don’t get popping seeds all over you. When the spluttering subsides, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and cook until golden brown. Then add the ground coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stir, and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Right after you add the meatballs, start the rice. Add rice and 3 c water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.

To finish the curry, add the cilantro and lime juice. Shake the pan gently to mix them in, and then taste for seasoning. Serve over rice.

Spring. Pasta.

I know. I know! FOOD! How freaking crazy is that? On a FOOD blog?

Alright. I’ll stop being dramatic. I just realized that, if I didn’t post something soon, May would go by with not one single post. And I know that, even though it’s only May 15th, because we’re about to get up out of this country for nearly 2 weeks, and I definitely won’t be posting then (since, you know, I barely post now..).

Spring. Pasta.

Also, Spring won’t be around forever, will it? Although I hear it still feels like Winter in the Midwest, it does actually feel very springlike here in San Francisco, and even down in Palo Alto where I work it isn’t blistering hot yet. That said, I figure I should share this spring-like recipe while I still can, because it’s definitely something you should consider making.

I made this pasta recipe a month or so ago, and it is chock-full of spring veggies – broccoli, asparagus, even little cherry tomatoes. You could practically toss in whatever you like – possibly green beans, some roughly chopped kale or chard, whatever. The sauce that results from the pasta liquid, tomato juice, and melted cheese is really light, so light that you have to take care not to make any more pasta than the recipe dictates, or else it will be really dry. If you want a richer pasta, you could probably add a little white wine, or a tablespoon of butter to the pot at the same time you add the pasta water. For me though, I wanted to really focus on the veggies, and that’s the intention here: simplicity, good produce at its Springtime best.

I hope everyone has/has had a lovely Spring. I also hope you’ve enjoyed the rando pics I’ve posted. It’s my little way of barely hanging on to this blog and not totally saying goodbye. It’s nice to still have things to share, and despite having limited time, the picture-sharing is a great way to keep up. Hopefully, more recipes will come, but we’ll see how things go. I can’t remember the last time I took a photo while cooking – probably this one!

So, until next time, stay warm/cool/whatever 😉 .

Spring. Pasta.

Spring Pasta with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes
adapted from Food&Wine, April 2013; serves 6

time commitment: ~1 hour

printable version

ingredients

2 bunches of broccolini or broccoli (about 1 1/4 pounds), thick stems halved lengthwise

1 garlic clove, sliced

5 T evoo, divided

Flaky sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds red cherry tomatoes

6 scallions, white and tender green parts only, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

1 pound tagliatelle

2 T unsalted butter

Large pinch of crushed red pepper

1/4 c chopped flat leaf parsley

About 1/2 c shaved ricotta salata cheese, for garnish

instructions

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the broccolini and garlic with 3 T of the olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper; spread on a rimmed baking sheet. In another bowl, toss the tomatoes with the remaining 2 T of olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables for about 25 minutes, until the broccolini is tender and charred in spots and the tomatoes are very juicy but not broken down.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the scallions until just softened, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the scallions to a bowl. Add the asparagus to the pot and cook until just crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to the bowl.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Return the pasta to the pot. Add the roasted broccolini, scallions, asparagus, butter, crushed red pepper and half of the parsley. Add the reserved pasta water and cook until the pasta is al dente. Gently fold in the roasted tomatoes and any juices and season with sea salt and pepper. Garnish with the shaved cheese and the remaining parsley and serve right away.