Fair and Square

One of our favorite types of food these days is ramen. No, not the 10/$1.00 packs that come in all sorts of flavors, like chicken, oriental, and beef, but the actual kind that you are given in a restaurant, in a gigantic bowl filled to the brim with steaming hot broth, ramen noodles, pork (or fried chicken. fried chicken!), and all sorts of other ingredients that have me salivating right this second.

We’ve tried a handful of spots in the city over the past few months, and every time I’m feeling the need for some warm comfort food my mind goes straight to ramen. I can’t get enough of it.

Of course, while waiting for said ramen to make its appearance at the table, it’s never a bad idea to have an appetizer or three. Many of these ramen joints make killer meat skewers, but often times all I want is a freakin’ potsticker. Something about a little sheet of dough enveloping a bite of meat and veggies, and then steamed and served alongside some sort of amazing dipping sauce makes me so amazingly happy. So happy that I could likely eat a couple orders of them and call it a night, if it weren’t for the ramen making its way to the table.

But when you’re home, that’s another story. I’ve eaten potstickers only quite a few times.

Potstickers are those little treats that look so damn hard to make, but are in all reality, probably one of the easiest dishes to throw together, minus the time. You toss the filling into a food processor, which means your initial chopping skills really don’t matter all that much, as long as things are similarly butchered to smithereens. You put the filling onto pre-made wrappers. You fold them (which is what people think is so dang hard. It isn’t.), and then you steam them. The sauce is nothing but a handful of ingredients whisked together (and for that, there are thousands of choices, but I’m a fan of a spicy peanut sauce, I am). Then you’re ready to chow down.

Sure, they look intricate. And sure, it might take some precision and a little patience, but there isn’t much that can go wrong, even if the wonton shapes aren’t winning beauty pageants. Either way, what results are little pockets of delightful goodness that you, I promise, won’t be able to resist.

You can even take them to a potluck if you want. And when that potluck gets canceled without your knowledge, you can smile a little on the inside, because they just turned into lunch, which means you can eat like, 10 of them, instead of 2. That’s what I call winning – fair and square.

Shrimp & Ginger Potstickers w/ Spicy Peanut Sauce
makes 24 potstickers – 4 servings as a meal, 12 as an appetizer

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

3/4 c Napa cabbage, shredded
1/3 c scallions, chopped (+ more for garnish, optional)
1/4 c carrots, julienned
2 T cilantro, chopped
1 T low sodium soy sauce
2 t fresh ginger, minced
1 t dark sesame oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 lb shrimp, cooked
sriracha, optional but totally not optional
24 small wonton wrappers
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 T canola oil, divided
1 c water, divided

1/4 c water
1/4 c reduced fat peanut butter
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T chile paste w/ garlic (sambal oelek)
1/2 t sugar

combine 1st 10 ingredients (sriracha to your liking) into food processor and pulse ~4 times, or until coarsely chopped and mixed together.

working with 1 wrapper at a time, spoon 1 1/2 t of filling into the center. wet the edges of the wonton with a small brush and bring opposite corners together, pinching to seal. place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch/arrowroot powder.

heat 1 1/2 t canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 12 potstickers to pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. slowly add 1/2 c water, cover and cook for 4 minutes. uncover and cook 3 more minutes, until the liquid evaporates. Repeat again with remaining oil, potstickers, and water.

prepare sauce by combining all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and whisking until mixed.

serve potstickers with peanut sauce, garnishing with green onions, if desired.

Crowd Pleaser

Eat, drink, and be merry. That’s what happened this past weekend. Who am I kidding? That’s what happens every weekend. Except this time, we didn’t just spend it with a few people; we spent it with a condo-full of people.

There was a lot of chocolate involved. Also, cheese, but more on that later. We’ll be talking party food for a while in these parts.

I ‘advertised’ a party with ‘snacks’, and as a direct result of my inability to choose between all the things I wanted to make, we ended up with plenty of food, and good thing because most of it was put to good use. Cheryl and Luke were lucky enough to get to help out with some of the snack-making since they came in Thursday night, but they didn’t seem to mind being put to work. Me? I love having people to cook with, and as a result there was more time to chill, which was also nice. (as a side note, Luke also let me play with his ‘prime lens‘, which I promptly put on my wishlist.)

Of course, we’re talking about someone who gets a kick outta baking bread and cookies all day, and someone who didn’t seem to mind having to prep and cook all week so that all 12 items were ready well in advance of party time. To me, all of that makes perfect sense, and I didn’t regret an ounce of it (well, maybe I regretted making macarons for the first time on Saturday afternoon, but again, more on that later).

I realized early in the week that the snacks were cheese-heavy and chocolate-heavy. Is that a problem? No. I pushed through, and only adjusted a wee bit to add (rather than change because again, I’m silly like that) a non-chocolate cookie and a non-cheese savory snack. But people liked the chocolate – especially the puppy chow.

What’s not to like, right? In contrast to what you might think, puppy chow isn’t dog food, but if dog food tasted this good I’d seriously have to consider a new diet. Puppy chow is a dish that combines all of my favorite things: crunchy cereal, peanut butter, chocolate, and sugar. Also, butter.

This is a dessert I can totally get behind, 24/7. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s a crowd pleaser for sure. It’s also adjustable, with no extra effort, to varied diets – gluten-free, dairy-free, even vegan.

I should also add that if you do make it, hide it. It’s only slightly addictive, but when you’re making things in advance that bowl, no matter how well covered it is, seems to get opened on multiple occasions.

Puppy Chow
adapted from Fast & Fabulous Party Foods & Appetizers; serves a party

time commitment: less than 10 minutes

i’ve seen this recipe in quite a few places, and i remember first trying it when my mother in law made it. i don’t have her recipe, but i’m guessing it’s pretty similar to this one, which i found in a book my mom got me for christmas. thanks, mom!

printable version

1 stick vegan butter
1 c chunky peanut butter
1 12-oz bag vegan chocolate chips
1 box corn Chex
3 c powdered sugar

in a microwave-safe bowl (or in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly), combine butter, peanut butter, and chocolate and warm in 30 second intervals until melted, smooth, and runny.

dump 1/2 of Chex into a large bowl and cover with half of melted goodness. add the rest of the Chex and cover with remaining melted goodness. combine gently and mix together. dump contents into a double-bagged paper bag, toss in powdered sugar, and shake vigorously (which is why you need the bag doubled…) until sugar coats all of Chex. enjoy!

Sous Chef

There is undoubtedly a yin yang-type vibe going on when it comes to having your house on the market. It’s über clean, which is exactly awesome. And when you have to repaint your walls, a process I like to call “borifying”, it appears less like your own home and thus easier to say goodbye to, when the time comes.

At the same time, it makes having company, which is one of our favorite things in the world, a little bit trying. It makes cooking in your kitchen, the one that got you loving cooking in the first place, even more daunting. What it doesn’t do is stop us from doing either one of the above – we embrace the challenge, our guests embrace the challenge, and we charge ahead.

It helps when you have an organized sous chef at your disposal – just ask my friend, Caroline. One of my favorite sisters-in-law and her two girls managed to squeeze in a trip to the Windy City prior to our inevitable, not to mention fast approaching, departure, and while we braved the cold a few times, we also managed to find plenty to do indoors as well.

In the event that you’re a little slow to catch on today, one of them involved cooking. And while I didn’t have anything fancy planned since cooking for kids isn’t my specialty and kids don’t seem to like fancy food but rather things like plain chicken and rice, it ended up not being the finished product that was so awesome this time – it was all the help along the way.

Our dinner consisted of a recipe similar to this gem, but sans recipe and preparation, and with cheese stuffed into the middle, along with soup that reminded me of this recipe, but with some sweet potatoes tossed alongside the squash. A salad finished, or rather started the meal off. As far as the adults were concerned, it was a good meal thrown together in a couple of hours, mostly courtesy of my sous chef, Lee Ann, who I have yet to figure out how to permanently steal from her mother.

We decided our meal was only lacking in one small item: dessert. A quick hand-off of cleaning duties and a few page-turns later we were set, once I managed to find a recipe that wouldn’t involve a grocery store run (this part was actually pretty easy, since a stranded family of 10 could survive on our kitchen inventory for weeks).

Not only can this newly acquired (or rather, soon to be kidnapped) sous chef of mine successfully bread chicken with the skill of a Southern housewife, but she’s also more organized than a high school librarian – a quality of utmost importance in chef-world. She labeled each item in her mise en place, her ordered by step mise en place, including (how cute is this!) “needs 2 b melted” on the stick of butter. She (almost) read all of the instructions before starting to bake, and we only forgot to read the step that said “let chill overnight”, which we decided wasn’t going to happen, and it worked out just fine.

I realize now that my goal in life (aside from the B&B in Napa) is to procreate. Not just procreate any ol’ kid, but one that will measure flour and peanut butter with me, and one that will wear my apron (or her/his own, I reckon) and read my cookbooks. One that will carefully plate our peanut butter cookies and serve them to guests with a smile on her face. One that will insist on changing a recipe no matter how good it is the way it’s written because really, what kind of cookie isn’t better with chocolate chips?!

Yep, that’s the plan – one day. For now though, I’m going to settle for kidnapping.

Peanut Butter ‘Surprise’ Cookies
Adapted, barely, from Ready for Dessert; makes 30

time commitment: 1 hour + 2 hours chilling the dough (we skipped this part…)

printable version

my niece decided that 1 cup of peanut butter just wasn’t enough for dessert, so we found some chocolate chips in the pantry and added those. it was her decision to change the name to “peanut butter surprise” given this new ingredient. you could definitely leave them out, but why not toss ’em in?!

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c unsalted butter
1/2 c sugar, plus more for coating cookies
1/2 c light brown sugar
1 c creamy peanut butter
1 egg
1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips

in a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. set aside.

using a hand mixer, beat together the butter, sugars, and peanut butter in a large bowl, on medium speed until smooth. beat in the egg. add flour mixture and mix until dough comes together. knead in the chocolate chips, if using.

cover dough and refrigerate for 2 hours, if possible. remove and let come to room temperature.

preheat oven to 350 F and position racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven. line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpat, and pour a little sugar in a small bowl.

roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls and roll them into the sugar. place on baking sheet and repeat to fill. flatten cookies with a fork, making a cross-hatch shape. if dough comes apart a little, just squeeze it back together – no biggie.

bake until cookies begin to brown around the edges but still look raw – about 10 minutes. remove and let cool on sheets, then on wire rack.

Captain’s Corner

There was this store in my hometown, a store-slash-pseudo-restaurant, that was frequented by us highschoolers looking for afternoon cigarettes and the others who were going for an after-school hot dog. At some point, the Captain’s Corner turned into a regular hangout, a place of comfort where friends mingled, where we found older kids to buy us smokes, and where we people-watched till the joint closed for the day and we were forced to loiter elsewhere, which was usually behind “the mall”.

The word comfort emits a different connotation for me today, and in most cases, has something to do with food. And why shouldn’t it?


As a kid getting home from school, I had the swingset and a backyard with a grapevine-woven fence; today, it’s a balcony with a grill and a glass of wine. In high school, it was the Captain’s Corner or a drive up and down Vernon Avenue, with anything from Pearl Jam to Biggie Smalls blaring out of the busted speakers and vibrating the windows. Now, it’s an outdoor BYOB for Happy Hour or the tunes Hubs spins on his fancy record player while I whip up something for dinner. And in college, there was certainly alcohol and pizza, but comfort meant a trip home for fresh laundry and quiet time with the family. While I’d still love to have mom do my laundry, I instead find comfort in those carefully prepared, overly luscious dinners – the ones you eat slowly, bite by bite, because they just feel like home, childhood, and all those things you want to last forever.

This is one of those meals.

Country Captain, a dish I’d never heard of until exactly 1 month ago, is the ultimate comfort dish. Though it’s Indian at heart, it’s more commonly lauded as a Southern dish, which either means I’m a fake Southerner or that it’s made in a Southern area other than North Carolina (supposedly Savannah, mainly). Plus, when you have Aunt Faye and her chicken pastry and fried chicken – do you really need anything else? I rest my case, if there was one against me…

So this country captain business – it is really somethin’. And while the cauliflower was almost enough to make me toss this recipe aside, my curiousity and love of all the other ingredients won me over. Fortunately, I not only tolerated, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cauliflower. They are perfectly crunchy, buried in the absolute best smelling made-from-scratch curry powder and crushed tomato sauce you ever did smell, and not only do those little peas in your freezer add some color, they’re juicy in a way, and they pop between your teeth. Dried cherries, as odd as it may seem, are crucial, as they rehydrate and become chewy blips of sweetness.

If you need one more reason to make this, other than all the goodness listed above and the fact that this only dirties one pot, and that it freezes like a dream (I have one serving left), how does finishing this off with a healthy slap of peanut butter sound? I’ll stop here, and I’m heading straight for the freezer…

What’s your favorite comfort food?

Country Captain with Cauliflower and Peas
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010; serves 6

printable version

spice mixture
1 1/2 t coriander or coriander seeds
1 t fennel seeds
1 t cumin or cumin seeds
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1/4 t cardamom seeds (from 3 whole green cardamom pods)
1 1/2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t cayenne pepper

5 T peanut oil, divided
1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed, cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups)
Kosher salt
2 lbs skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 bunch green onions, dark green and white parts chopped separately
1 T finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/3 c dried Bing cherries, finely chopped
1 T smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 c frozen petite peas (9 to 10 ounces; do not thaw)
1/3 c coconut shavings (or unsweetened shredded coconut), lightly toasted

spice mixture
Place coriander, fennel seeds, cumin, black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom seeds, and cinnamon stick in small dry skillet (or, to save dishwork, in the bottom of the heavy large pot, below). Stir over medium heat until fragrant and slightly darker in color, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat; cool. Finely grind spices in spice mill or in mortar with pestle. Transfer to small bowl; add turmeric and cayenne.

Heat 3 T oil in heavy large deep pot over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower florets; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and sauté until beginning to soften and brown in spots, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.

Add remaining 2 T oil and half of chicken to same pot; sprinkle with coarse kosher salt and sauté until chicken is light brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer chicken to large bowl. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Add white parts of green onions, finely grated ginger, and minced garlic to same pot; reduce heat to medium and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground spice mixture; stir 15 seconds. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add crushed tomatoes; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in dried cherries and peanut butter; return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add sautéed cauliflower to pot; cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through and cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes longer. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

Add frozen peas to stew and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Ladle stew into bowls. Sprinkle each serving with green onion tops and toasted coconut shavings and serve.

Battle Coconut & The New Terri Regime

Battle Coconut group

We’d all hoped for the month to pass quickly so that the next Iron Chef Chicago battle could begin. Challengers deduced what theme ingredient the Reigning Iron Chef (ahem… me) would choose for Battle 2. Fruits? Spices? Meat, perhaps? The possibilities were limitless. Concurrently, I’d conjured up a rather long list of possible theme ingredients, realizing that the second time around was much more difficult and inspiration-less. Basil was easy – it’s my favorite herb and once I saw Battle Basil on the TV Iron Chef, I knew that I was leaning toward choosing it for a reason. And I was sold; ingredient chosen. This time, there was no IC-inspired moment, but rather a long list of possibilities drawn from various recipes in my box and in my stack. I made my final decision about a week before the battle. Honey. And then, two nights before, I made my second final decision. Coconut. And coconut it was. Not because I was firm in my decision, but because I had to announce it the next day. But I do love coconut, and it turned out to be a rather interesting night of gluttonous fun.

Our Iron Chef group started last month and we had 11 challengers at the first battle – many of us were genetic counselors but there were non-GC’s too. The invitee list increased for the April battle as we recruited others to partake in the competition, and the eats. And so this time we had 12 challengers (some oldies, some contest virgins) with 19 dishes in the running for the title of Iron Chef.

coconut chicken wings

This time it was different. Most of us were at the first battle, so we were serious this time. Upon entering Christina’s (AKA Kitchen Stadium), we said our hellos (quickly) and then got right down to business. We were in it to win it. Since plating is part of the scoring, we all brought our serving trays, spoons, tongs, and garnishes. We are hard core. Once we were all set up, it was time to feast. And then we socialized!

coconut cupcakes

For fear of having all sweet dishes, I made two savory treats instead of my planned one sweet and one savory. It worked out nicely as my sweet dish was a coconut vanilla bean cupcake and we ended up with three cupcake dishes. And so, my first dish was coconut-lime marinated chicken wings served with two sauces, a coconut peanut sauce and a habanero coconut sauce. My second dish was coconut shrimp served with a tamarind BBQ sauce. I think the two wing sauces were the more popular of the three sauces, so I’ll post those recipes below.

coconut basmati rice

And again, we had some great dishes. I’d say almost every single one was tasty. But it all came down to the one with the highest score – the most creative, the most visually-appealing, and the one that resonated with coconut at a level above the others.

Terri is now the reigning Iron Chef and gets to pick the next theme ingredient. She didn’t even wear the coconut bra – surely that would have boosted her score even higher, but she didn’t even need it! What a champ! I do fear for that next ingredient – she’s a tough challenger, but I already have a couple of guesses as to what she’ll pick. I just hope I’m right because I need that title back!

chocolate coconut ravioli

So following Battle Coconut, I didn’t bring home another victory, or even second or third place, but I did have quite an enjoyable night with old friends, new friends, and lots of yummy food. Oh, and the leftovers in the fridge aren’t bad either (well, the ones that Chris didn’t eat when I got home….).

Now the countdown begins to Battle 3!

coconut macaroons

The Top Three:
1st place: Terri’s Twice Baked Coconut Sweet Potatoes
2nd place: Hope’s Coconut Spice Wraps
3rd place: Jennifer’s Coconut Chocolate Ravioli

twice baked coconut sweet potatoes

My sauce recipes:
Coconut Habanero wing sauce
from Tabasco.com
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons TABASCO® brand Habanero Sauce
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup dry unsweetened grated coconut
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Add more honey to cut heat if desired and more coconut to increase coconut flavor, if desired. Puree with immersion blender or in food processor/blender, until somewhat smooth.

Coconut Peanut Sauce

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup canned cream of coconut
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp soy sauce
Mix all. Add more coconut to increase flavor. I added some shredded coconut to thicken the sauce and add more coconut. Blend.