August 23, 2012

Devine Eats

I cannot believe that in over two years of posting on this blog I have never posted about this chicken club salad. I'm embarrassed.  Even more so because it's now showing  up in this hastily photographed state.  I had to snap this with my phone before I even finished mixing it all together because I knew the second that it was ready, it would disappear in the blink of an eye.  My apologies for a messy bowl and unevenly distributed dressing.

Chicken club salad is the food of gods. This is not an exaggeration. Right up there with the perfection of a summertime BLT or this lovely dish of Vietnamese noodles, stir fried beef and veggies, this salad has been a favorite from first bite. I've made it for friends and roommates who have in turn made it for their friends or special someones and every last one of those people has proclaimed this "salad" as devine perfection. I can give you references if you don't believe me, or you can just go and make it yourself. Like, right now.

You might think, after taking a quick glance at the ingredient list, that this is merely a salad or panzanella form of a BLT, but in fact it's a whole different beast.  Sure, it has brightly acidic tomatoes, and bacon, and mayonaise and toasted bread but then that mayonaise gets transformed when it's blended with basil and yogurt and lemon juice.  And there are cubes of gently poached chicken and thin rings or green onion dotted throughout.  This is nothing like that classic sandwich.  I'll repeat: this is the food of the gods.

A recent search for the original recipe lead me to a Food Network page saying the contents I was searching for could no longer be found.  Which would really be a shame, except I have here my version, one I've tweaked over the years and I think is even better.  There are more croutons for more crunch!  I use half mayonaise (Best Foods only, please!) and half plain yogurt for the basil dressing and then slather the whole thing over the salad instead of a measly 1/2 cup.  And the bread, use whatever your heart desires as long as it has some structure to it.  One time I used an Italian loaf with lemon zest in it and it was heavenly.

You're welcome.  I single handedly just saved the internet.

Chicken Club Salad
adapted from Sara Moulton

There are several elements to assemble here: poach the chicken, make the croutons, blend up the dressing, fry the bacon and cut up the veggies, but all of this can be done in advance if need be. Store the croutons in an air tight container, the veggies, dressing and chicken separately in the fridge but the bacon is probably best freshly crisped up. About 10 minutes before serving toss everything together in a big bowl and you're good to go.

6 to 8 servings

6 cups of 3/4-inch cubes day old country loaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices bacon, chopped
3 pounds whole chicken breasts OR 1½ pounds boneless/skinless breast, poached and the meat cut into bite-size pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 scallions including the green part, sliced thinly
Quick Basil Mayonnaise, recipe follows
Salt and pepper

Quick Basil Mayonnaise:
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup plain yogurt 
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender blend together the basil, mayonnaise, yogurt and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl drizzle the bread cubes with the olive oil, tossing them to coat evenly, and season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the bread cubes in a jelly-roll pan (or cookie sheet) and toast them in the middle of the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are golden.  Let them cool. 

In a skillet cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and transfer it with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. 

In a large bowl combine the chicken, tomatoes, scallions, bacon, quick basil mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, mix in croutons and let sit 5-10 minutes.

August 17, 2012

Of Summertime Spritzers

This past week has been a "please, get this girl a cocktail" kind of a week.  

A Sunday afternoon, people watching in the park and soaking in the warm sunshine totally calls for a cocktail.  Or at least a beer or some wine.

Stressing myself out planning my Fall semester and realizing that my free time, my precious commitment-free, care-free, free time is about to come to a screeching halt?  Please, get this girl a cocktail, hopefully it will take the edge off.

A gathering of good friends, reunited after what feels like way too long?  Let's celebrate and drink a cocktail!

Realizing that I only have about 10 more days of summer break left?  You know the drill.  Fetch that cocktail.

This particular cocktail was dreamed up on a whim as I stood in my kitchen, refrigerator door open, trying to figure out the fate of the latest batch of foraged blackberries.  (They're still going strong, those urban blackberry bushes, and I still cannot resist the little hike and filling another tupperware full of sun warmed fruit.)  In the crisper draw just below them was a big bunch of basil and on the counter were a few lemons.  You know, when life gives you lemons and all that...

It's tart and fruity but neither overwhelmingly so.  The herbaceous licorice notes from the basil make it a bit more sophisticated, a grown up lemonade.  Fizzed up with a bit of club soda and poured over some ice and sparkling wine, this spritzer is just what my week, and weekend needs.

Blackberry-Basil Lemonade

This is just the lemonade portion of the aforementioned cocktail. I trust you guys can mix it up to your liking.  I've really been digging the spritzers lately so I mixed mine up with 2 parts sparkling wine to 1 1/2 parts lemonade and topped it off with a splash of club soda.  Refreshing, low alcohol, and perfect for afternoon sipping.  It's also totally delicious just on it's own.

yields 4 1/2 cups

juice of 3 lemons
1/4 cup sugar
10-12 basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
4 cups water (or 3 cups water and 1 cup club soda)

In a blender add lemon juice, sugar, basil leaves, blackberries and 1 cup of water.  Blend for 1 minute, or until the sugar has dissolved.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds and pieces of basil leaves.  Add remaining water to strained mixture and refrigerate until chilled.  If you're going the sparkling route, add the rest of the water, chill, then add the club soda just before serving.

August 9, 2012

...Take Me Away

I've never had much of the traveling itch.  I rarely feel the need to get away, somewhere far away, and  discover something new.  Experience life differently.  In the past I've been quite content with mini domestic explorations and weekend road trips.  I felt grounded and rooted and wholly connected to my time and place.  But then something changed.  Maybe it's all the fog and cool summer days or the realization that after a year of living in this city, it'll never be my city.  Maybe my jam packed busy schedule for the upcoming fall semester is factoring in too.  Either way, a little late to the game, I'm ready to pack a bag or two and fly off to far away lands.

But summer comes to a close in 2 weeks and my student loans for the year have yet to come through so here in the city I'll remain, traveling by way of cooking and daydreaming; planning for a next big adventure.  And all that is okay really, because that just means something exciting will be waiting just over the horizon.

There are bowls like this Vietnamese rice noodle and stir fried beef salad to transport me and tide me over.  A salad so perfectly summer, so perfectly balanced that I can hardly find fault with it.  A tangled   base of translucent noodles mounded so high with tender beef and colorful crisp vegetables that I didn't leave us enough room to mix in the nuoc cham dressing.  Bowls filled all the way to the tippy top with eyes much larger than our stomachs.

I love all the elements and flavors that Vietnamese cuisine is based on.  Fresh vegetables garnishing so many dishes, a medley of herbs that not only work in taste but make for wonderful aromatics as well.  Salty fish sauce and acidic lime juice, balanced with a little raw sugar and a spicy heat, perfection.  A little marinated and (in this case) tender beef boost the savory quotient and I'm one happy eater.

And someday, instead of just eating, I'll be the one sitting on the beaches of Southeast Asia, satisfying that itch.

Bun Bo Xao
adapted from Use Real Butter

This recipe is mostly prep work, but once that's all done, the actual noodle salads are a cinch to assemble.  Just pile the ingredients on top of the noodles, splash a little of the nuoc cham dressing and give it all a good toss.  Every ingredient plays a key roll in the overall flavor, so really, the prep work all becomes worth it.  You'll totally understand once you take your first bite.

4-6 servings

1 stem lemongrass (the tender white part), minced
1 lb. steak (I used ribeye), sliced thin against the grain and at an angle
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 small white onion, sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 package vermicelli noodles/rice sticks, cooked
2 cups bean sprouts
2 Persian cucumbers, halved and sliced
a handful of mint leaves
a handful of cilantro leaves
pickled daikon and carrots
chopped salted & roasted peanuts

nuoc cham (dressing):
juice from 2 limes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced
sambal olek paste to taste

Whisk together all the nuoc cham ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Follow the instructions on the rice noodle package. If there aren’t any, place the noodles in a large pot of boiling water and let boil for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pot for 3 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water.

To make the bun bo xao: Mix 2 teaspoons of the lemongrass (reserve the rest for later) with the beef, the garlic, and 2 tablespoons of fish sauce. Set it aside and let it marinade for 20 minutes. 

Gather your serving bowls and place a large handful of rice noodles in each bowl. Sprinkle a handful of bean sprouts and some cucumber slices over the noodles. Roll the herbs together and give them a good chopping. Sprinkle some over each bowl. Set aside. 

Heat a wok or frying pan on your highest heat setting. Add the vegetable oil, the rest of the lemongrass and the sliced onion. Stir the contents around the pan and toss the beef in, from here it should only take 2 or 3 minutes for the meat to cook through.  Add the remaining teaspoon of fish sauce and give everything in the pan a good stir. Place a scoop of the beef on each noodle salad. Dress with more herbs, Vietnamese pickled carrots and daikon, chopped peanuts and nuoc cham.

July 19, 2012

Grown-up Tastes

I'm sorry.  I've been holding out on you.  I should have given you this pizza recipe more than a week ago, but I've been selfishly clinging onto it and not sharing.  Let me assure you though, this is totally worth waiting for.

Like the chicken satay and the corn, zucchini and feta pizza before it, I have a thing for interesting and homemade pizzas.  I'm not much of a delivery girl (I don't think I've ever ordered and had a pizza delivered, come to think of it), or snag a cheap slice in the afternoon or after the bar kind of girl either.  Back in elementary school I did join Pizza Hut's Book It! reading club allowing me to pester my parents to take me to get my free personal pan pizza once I fulfilled the quota.  A program that I was quite enthusiastic about owing mostly to the fact that I already read books like crazy and getting Pizza Hut was a novelty.  We were a strictly Boboli household - with the occasional BBQ chicken thrown in from Pizza Nova.

These days I prefer to get my hands in there and make the whole thing myself.  Stretching and pulling the crust out thin, heating my oven to its absolute maximum temperature, arranging the toppings and not too much cheese - and please! hold the pizza sauce - to make my own perfect pies.  I will gladly trade the convenience of delivery for the extra time in my kitchen, no problem.

This roasted cauliflower pizza, topped with colorful chilies and green olive tapenade was heavenly.  The nutty cauliflower bits melted together with the mild fresh mozzarella, the Fresno and Anaheim chilies punching up the spice factor, the colors here alone are almost enough.  But then you dollop little spoonfuls of green olive tapenade all over just as you take it out of the oven, making briny little pools as it softens in the heat, and that's when you've truly reached perfection and balance.

Pizza with Roasted Cauliflower, Chiles & Green Olive Tapenade
Adapted from TasteFood

There are many shortcuts you can take with this pizza, and as long as you're buying good quality stuff, the final product will not suffer. I used Whole Foods multigrain pizza dough and really enjoyed it's flavor, although I couldn't get it as thin as I would have liked. You can also use a jarred green olive tapenade, or whip one up yourself with olives, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, anchovies and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

4-6 servings

1 pound ball of pizza dough
olive oil
8 oz fresh mozzarella, shredded or torn into small chunks
2 cups chopped cauliflower florets from 1 small head
2 Fresno chiles, sliced into rings
1 Anaheim/California chile, sliced into rings
1/2 cup green olive tapenade

Preheat oven to 450F.  If you have a pizza stone, put it in while the oven is cold.

On a piece of parchment paper, roll out dough to desired thickness.  Sometimes it comes out a circle, sometime a rectangle.  Sometimes it's just a wonky shape, dosen't matter.  Just roll, toss, stretch that dough until it's the thickness you like (I personally prefer a thinner crust).

Brush dough with a bit of olive oil.  Scatter the shredded/torn mozzarella over the whole thing, leaving a 1/2 inch border along the edges.  In a bowl toss the chopped cauliflower and chile rings with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then scatter the whole mixture over the cheese.

Transfer the pizza on the parchment paper to the pizza stone (or just onto a cookie sheet and then into the oven), and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and the crust turns a nice golden brown.  As soon as you take it out of the oven, spoon little dollops of the green olive tapenade all over and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Slice and serve.

July 12, 2012

Summer Romance

It's funny how you fall in love with a season all over again, year after year.  Never has it been the case that I didn't love summer, (I'm a Leo after all, ruled by the sun) but somehow in the interceding months of the year, that little bit slips to the back of my brain and becomes more a faded memory than a sensory feeling.  But oh!  When the sun does come out, and the earth heats up and the air changes just so, it all comes rushing back.

We've been going to the farmer's market every Saturday morning for the past month, and you can see the signs of summer creeping in at every stall.  The bushes of little green berries in the park just up the hill from us have finally exploded into a mess of juicy, deep purple blackberries.  And if hope helps at all, these foggy mornings will more quickly turn into warm sunny days.

It's a new version of summer I'm adjusting to here in San Francisco, but it's still my favorite season.

This pan-seared salmon is part of that redefining.  Previously, it might have been a grilled version, with black markings from the grates and a subtle smokey flavor, but we no longer have a grill and most evenings are so thick with fog I'd hardly want to stand outside long enough for the fish to cook.  A nice and hot cast iron skillet followed by a brief trip into the oven is the new grill.  I love the textures this recipe results in.  The crisp bottom of the fish from a heavy skillet and high heat, the interior kept moist and tender from a slathering of mustard and finally the crumbly, herby topping.

I've been using an herbs de Provence spice blend in just about everything lately (so good on grilled vegetables with a little olive oil and balsamic!), so that's what I used here and I thought it went perfectly with the dijon mustard and salty kick of freshly grated parmesan.  Paired with lightly steamed tender green beans and the first of the season's tiny yellow tomatoes, it all felt very French countryside.

Mustard and Panko-Crusted Salmon

This dish is simple and perfect for just two. I used skin-on salmon fillets, which helped keep the salmon itself from sticking to the pan, but next time I think I'd prefer it without. The parts that did come into direct contact with the super hot pan and crisped up were my favorite bits. And in the spirit of summer, you could easily sub out the dried herb blend for a teaspoon of fresh thyme or tarragon, whatever sounds best to you.

2 servings

2 salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper
1/3 cup panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon herbs de provence
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for pan

Preheat oven to 425F.

Pat salmon fillets dry, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, or small plate, mix the panko crumbs, herbs de provence and parmesan cheese and season with a little more salt and pepper.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the whole thing and mix to distribute.  The panko crumbs should stick together slightly.

Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium high heat for 2 minutes, being careful not to let it smoke.

Divide the mustard between the 2 fillets and spread around to cover top.  Press the panko mixture into the mustard and on top of the salmon and then carefully transfer to preheated skillet.  Cook for 4 minutes to get the bottom crispy and then immediately transfer to the oven to finish cooking for 10-13 minutes more, depending on the thickness of your fillets.

June 25, 2012

Neighborhood Foraging

There are these trees that line the street around my apartment; in people's yards, in sidewalk planters and even across the way in the rec center's space.  The leaves on these trees are a gorgeous deep shade of burgundy until early winter when they all drop to the ground, leaving behind these dainty skeleton branches to stand bare for a few months.  But come February and March, the branches explode in soft pink blossoms, fluffy clouds of flowers, until finally the foliage comes backs to start the cycle all over again.  They really are beautiful trees.  And up until last week, I had no idea that they were cherry plum trees.

I had never even heard of a cherry plum until earlier this month when a co-worker showed me a bag full of them, having just spent the afternoon picking them off the two tress in his yard.  Then on a little neighborhood walk last weekend, as D and I passed the trees right out in front of our building, I noticed what looked like a bunch of smashed cherries on the ground.  And it was the same scene under the next two tress.  Either someone has been routinely dropping bags of cherries onto the sidewalk, or else these were cherry plum trees.

The fruits are just how you would imagine a cherry plum to be.  They're about the same size as a cherry, but more round like a plum and have a sweet flesh with tart skin and a pit in the center.  You can find me out front now, scouting for the fruit and pulling them from the reachable branches.  I like to call it urban foraging.  And just up the hill from us is a little park just covered in blackberry bushes.  You can bet I'll be foraging there as soon as the little green berries turn a deep purple and finally turn sweet.

Until then, the markets are abundant with summer berries (spotted this Saturday: olallieberries), just begging me to take them home.  I love a good berry-based dessert when the weather is warming up, and I really love a berry cobbler.  The way the berries soften and release their juice, the crisp top and edges right after you take it out of the oven, the ice cream just beginning to melt into the whole mess because it's best served still warm that very same day.  This recipe isn't a cobbler in a traditional sense, it's not a biscuity topping dolloped over a mess of fruit and sugar, but more of a cake/cobbler hybrid.  The fruit gets scattered across the batter and topped with sugar to create a delicate thin crust when it's done baking.  And did I mention the cardamom in the batter?  It adds this exotic, perfume-like quality that I find totally irresistible, and just a hint unexpected.

Blackberry and Cardamom Cobbler
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

This is probably not what you'd typically classify as a cobbler, but it's delicious all the same. A little bit cake, a little bit cobbler and a perfect vehicle for those summertime berries that are becoming so abundant. I especially like the way the cardamom played with the mostly sweet, barely tart berries, adding an exotic and perfume-like quality, but if cardamom isn't your thing, you can certainly leave it out. You can also double this recipe and bake it in a pie dish if you're feeding more than just a few people.

4-6 servings

3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
scant 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 heaping tablespoon
1/2 cup milk
6 oz. fresh blackberries
vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a small baking dish.

Melt butter in a small dish in the microwave, set aside to cool a bit.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom and scant 1/2 cup sugar.  Slowly pour in milk and whisk until just combined.  Add melted butter and whisk again just until butter disappears into batter.  Pour into prepared baking dish and evenly distribute the blackberries over the entire surface.  Sprinkle the remaining heaping tablespoon sugar over the top.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the top is golden and the edges crisp.  Serve warm or room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

June 18, 2012

By Way of the Tropics

Ever since I started working at the restaurant, an increasing number of the meals I make at home have been vegan.  Not intentionally, I never really sat down and made that conscious decision, but it's the truth.  First there was the sautee of corn, greens, red onion and zucchini doused in lime juice and Louisiana hot sauce that was so good/easy that I made it at least four times in about twice as many days.  Then there was a lentil and vegetable curry that only reminded me how lacking my curry skills are, but was tasty none the less.  And now?  Now there is this Caribbean delight of coconut scented rice, black beans and fried plantains, accented with a bit mango salsa.

I could eat this. Every. Single. Day.  The slightly crisp skin the ripe plantains get from a light pan fry, their sweet creamy interiors balanced so perfectly with a sprinkle of salt.  The coconut scented rice and spicy mango salsa sending your thoughts immediately to tropical beaches and vacations and fancy drinks that come garnished with umbrellas.  And if you ask me, you can never go wrong with a fresh pot of black beans along with some avocado.  What's even better?  You can probably whip this whole thing up for under $5.

Not only am I all about tasty food, I'm also all about being thrifty.

As perfect as I found this to be - I mean it.  Totally swoon-worthy.  New summertime staple. - there is so much you can play around with here.  You can use any type of long-grain rice, even consider tossing in a handful of shaved coconut while the rice cooks.  Use peaches or nectarines or pineapple in place of the mango.  If you're feeling brave, use a bit of habanero instead of the serrano chili.  Just be sure to cook up your own pot of beans, canned just doesn't begin to compare, and use the ripest plantains you can find.

Coconut Rice, Black Beans and Plantains
Adapted from Herbivoracious

Take the extra time and cook up a pot of black beans instead of buying the canned ones. And don't forget the epazote, they make the beans just that much more magical. Every element of this dish is fantastic on its own, but together they're out of this world. You can substitute any long grain rice here; plain, jasmine, basmati and light coconut milk works too. The Manila mango is great for its creamy firm texture without any of those nasty fibers, but if mango fibers aren't an issue for you, go ahead and use whatever variety smells fragrant and sweet. Also, be sure to select plantains that have a significant amount of black spots, these ones are sweeter and better for a quick pan fry.

4 servings

1 cup dried black beans
1 large sprig epazote
1/2 small onion, finely diced

Mango Salsa:
1 Manila mango, cut into small cubes
1/2 - 1 serrano chili, minced (depending on how much heat you'd like)
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
a handful cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 lime, juiced

Coconut Rice:
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water

2 plantains (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/4" thick coins
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
avocado, sliced, for topping

For the beans:  Cover beans by about 3 inches with cool water and let soak overnight.  The next day, drain liquid and place beans in a medium pot.  Add the sprig of epazote and diced onion and cover with about 2 1/2 cups water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat then reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 1 hour, adding water as necessary to keep the beans submerged.  After an hour, beans should be soft and creamy, but still hold their shape and there should still be some pot liquer.  Remove epazote and season with about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

For the rice:  In a fine mesh strainer, rinse the basmati rice 2 or 3 times in cool water, then drain well.  Put in a pot and cover with 1 cup of coconut milk and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand, still covered, for another 10 minutes.

For the salsa: add all the chopped ingredients to a bowl, season with salt and lime juice.  Puree half of the salsa in a blender or food processor until you reach a thick but slightly chunky texture.  Mix back into the remaining salsa and set aside.

Just before serving, peel and slice plantains.  In a large skillet (I used nonstick) over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Lay plantain slices in a single layer and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes more, sprinkle with kosher salt.  Serve with the coconut rice, black beans, a big spoonful of the mango salsa and sliced avocado.

June 12, 2012

Wrap It Up

It's not all salads and health food around here.  Sometimes it's the weekend, and the weather is perfect and this picture you saw of soft pretzel wrapped hot dogs just won't get out of your head.  They're the summertime version of pigs-in-a-blanket., practically begging you to make them and re-live some childhood memories.  Everything I needed, I already had.  No excuses.

This is the second time I've worked with pretzel dough, and I must say that it's a breeze to handle.  It dosen't stick to every surface, you can shape it with ease and would you look at that beautiful shiny, golden crust?  Sure, the dough itself is on the stiff side and not the easiest to knead by hand (no Kitchen-Aid here), but that's hardly worth complaining about.  It's only 5 minutes of manhandling, pushing, folding and rotating, which you can just pass off as a mini arm workout, how convenient!

What follows seems like a tedious series of steps for something you're only going to wrap around a hot dog - shape dough into ropes, wrap, boil, brush with egg wash and top with coarse salt - but in total only takes about 15 minutes to execute and so worth it.  I mean, I'm not really even into hot dogs, but I loved these pretzel dogs.  Soft, chewy pretzel outside, steamed from the inside by that salty, savory dog and then slathered in a spicy mustard.  Yes, I could have eaten two.  The brown mustard mixed with a bit of Sriracha was an extra nice touch.  I see these becoming my summer BBQ staple.

Joy's post suggests making these and serving them with cold beer and enjoying them with friends and I heartily agree.  It was a lovely, warm, Sunday evening indeed.

Mini Pretzel Dogs
Adapted from Joy the Baker

Had I not used Nathan's dinner franks (which are larger than your average dog) for this recipe, I could have fully wrapped these in soft pretzel goodness, mummy-style. But Nathan's is what I had in the freezer, so it's what I used. Be classy, get a good brand of hot dogs or veggie dogs, you can't really bury these in toppings.

makes 8 mini dogs

3/4 cups warm water (between 110F and 115F)
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
11 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
2 quarts of water
1/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg, beaten, with a splash of water
sea salt, for topping

4 Nathan's Dinner Franks, cut in half
mustard for dipping

In a bowl, combine warm water and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will begin to foam and froth. If it doesn’t, throw the mixture away and start again with new yeast.

Once the yeast and water is frothy, add the flour, salt, and melted butter. Using a wooden spoon, stir until well combined and the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should be soft, pliable, and just a bit sticky.

Coat a bowl with a bit of vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and store in a warm place to rise. Allow dough to rise, until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Place a baking rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 425F.  Lightly brush a baking sheet with oil and set aside.

Combine water and baking soda in a large pan (5 quart is fine) and bring to a boil.

While the water comes to a boil, turn the dough out onto a clean, dry surface. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Working with one piece at a time and leaving the remaining covered in the bowl, start with the fingers of both hands in the center of the dough, and roll, moving your hands outward as you roll. Roll the dough along the surface until you have about a 12 to 15-inch piece of rope. Wrap pretzel around a hot dog, making sure to pinch and seal the ends.  Set on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel.

When water has come to a boil, gently lower a few pretzel dogs into the boiling water. Boil for 30 seconds. Remove carefully, using a flat, slotted spatula. Place on prepared baking sheet. Brush boiled pretzels with beaten egg, and top with coarse sea salt (or sesame or poppy seeds).

Bake until deeply golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm.  They'll be best the day they are made.

June 5, 2012

Lebanese Dreams

I'll be honest.  I really just made these falafels as an excuse to showcase and devour more of a big batch of pickled turnips I made.  Bright magenta and oh-so-snappy, I love Lebanese pickled turnips.

Dont even turn your nose up at the idea of pickled turnips, they are crazy good and resemble their cooked and/or raw counterparts in almost no way.  I know, because after this past winter, me and turnips are no longer on speaking terms.  It started out nice, I would roast them with our dinner and D and I would happily munch away, proclaiming not to understand people's strong distaste for the vegetable.  But week after week, a giant bag of them tucked into every single veggie box, I've come to understand.  Turnips, I am so over you.

Still, I am not one to just waste food and there was one last bag of snowy white orbs lingering in my crisper drawer.  And then I saw the big bunch of beets next to them.  Inspiration struck; I would make pickles.  Their zippy crunch is the perfect counterpart to a falafel sandwich slathered in a garlicy yogurt-tahini sauce and tucked into plenty of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber.

Did you know that falafels are made from chickpeas that have only been soaked and not cooked? Me neither. I was even a bit skeptical of the whole idea, but decided to push forward after recipe upon recipe yielded the same instructions - to soak the beans for 24 hours and not cook them before frying. After their day long soak, the beans are just soft enough to process into a crumbly puree along with an onion, a big handful of fresh parsley leaves and some other spices, without becoming a soggy mush. A little hot oil in a heavy skillet and a few minutes to cook on each side and you've got some mighty fine falafels.

Since the only cooking time the beans ever see in a quick fry in oil, you can expect a whole different flavor and texture experience.  The insides are moist but crumble just enough and you get a more pronounced starchy bean flavor rather than fully cooked chickpea's typical sweet and creamy taste.  There's a great supporting cast of spices and a bit of heat from cayenne pepper that recall memories of the falafels served at a Lebanese deli just down the street from where I grew up.  Mark Bittman, who this recipe is from, cautions that you'll need a food processor or a heavy duty blender to get the job done, but my wimpy blender prevailed once again and turned out excellent falafel mix in two batches.

I'm only sorry I didn't double the recipe so I could freeze them and have more on hand for when my next pickled turnip craving hits.

Falafel Sandwiches
Adapted from Mark Bittman

As comfortable as I am in the kitchen, I'm still not comfortable with the idea of deep frying, so I more or less pan fried these falafels after shaping them into little patties.  They still got a nice crispy crust on them and held their shape well, so I'd call it successful tweak to the original recipe.  I didn't change much else, but might suggest one more clove of garlic and a bit more salt.

6 to 8 servings

1 3/4 cup dried chickpeas
2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 scant teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

whole wheat pita or flatbread
pickled turnips
tahini sauce (equal parts plain yogurt and tahini, seasoned with pressed/grated/minced garlic, salt, and lemon juice, thin with water to reach desired consistency.)

Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep beans submerged.

Drain beans well (reserving a bit of the soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until finely minced, just shy of puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste.

Put oil in a heavy skillet, like cast iron, to a depth of about 1/4 inch.  The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350 degrees (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Scoop a heaping tablespoon of batter into your hands and shape into a small patty about 2-3 inches in diameter. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, about 4 minutes per side.

Assemble each sandwich with two patties and your choice of toppings.

May 29, 2012

Salad Days

Dear reader, it's been a while, I know.  

You see there were big projects due (business proposals for school! student elections to run in! peer educator positions to apply for!), and then finals to take and the semester to finish promptly followed by a few days where I just sat my butt down on the couch and watched TV for hours.  I really needed to relax and recharge.  Then it was family time with my brother and sister road tripping up here from San Diego and playing tourist with me for a week in the city. In the meantime I also sent out some resumes, applied to a few jobs, interviewed for one job and TOTALLY NAILED IT.  Yup, this girl now has a job.  A job at a pretty fantastic restaurant in the neighborhood (hello, walking to work) that I'm really stoked on.

May was busy, busy indeed.

And I don't imagine this summer is going to be lazy, either.  Luckily, summertime is salad time and salads like this one will probably make frequent appearances in our fridge.  It's great because all the elements can be assembled ahead of time and then just tossed into a bowl when hunger strikes.  I'll be working 3 nights a week and D will most likely be putting in long hours at the lab, so dinners with a minimal fuss-factor are ideal.

My mom's been making a version of sesame peanut noodles from Martha Stewart for years now - which I love - but the added cabbage slaw and poached chicken in this version make it feel more like a meal.  I love the crunch from the lime-y cabbage and radish slaw (no really, go wild with the lime juice) against the creamy noodles and the super succulent poached chicken helps stretch the dish a bit further.  It packs well for lunches, can feed several people if you're bringing it to a potluck and makes a great make ahead meal to be kept in the fridge for a few days.  Topped with squeeze of extra lime and Sriracha, I'd say you've got a winner on your hands.

Peanut Noodle Salad with Chicken and Cabbage Slaw
Adapted from Serious Eats

I tinkered with this one to really maximize some flavors and tailor the serving sizes a bit.  I used whole wheat spaghetti simply because I didn't feel like making a special trip for soba noodles, but by all means, if you've got, use it.  I also added some aromatics to the poaching liquid for the chicken to infuse a bit of flavor there.  Otherwise, get that cabbage slaw dressed with plenty of lime and salt and pepper and you'll be on your way to greatness.  If you're vegetarian, or vegan or just feel like going meatless, I think this dish would still be wonderful without the chicken.

4 servings

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large cloves garlic, divided
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, divided in 2
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) Sriracha
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 pound Savoy cabbage, shredded
3/4 cup radishes, thinly sliced
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti (or soba noodles)
3 large scallions, julienned

Thinly slice a 1-inch segment of the ginger and 1 large clove of garlic into a saucepan of well salted water.  Bring to boil. Add the chicken breasts to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cook for 6 minutes. Cover, turn off the heat, and allow to slowly poach until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes more. Remove chicken, allow to cool, and thinly slice or shred into pieces.

In the meantime, grate the remaining ginger piece and clove of garlic over a microplane.  Combine with the peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, chile sauce and half the sesame oil in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add a 1/4 cup water to achieve a looser texture for coating noodles.  If more is needed add 1 tablespoon at a time.  The final sauce should coat the back of a spoon, but not be thick and sticky.

In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, radishes, most of the cilantro, the olive oil, lime juice and the remaining sesame oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook the noodles in abundant water until just al dente, then drain and rinse to remove excess starch. Dress with the peanut sauce.  Top the noodles with the cabbage salad, the remaining cilantro, the scallions, and the sliced chicken. Serve with more lime wedges if desired.

May 9, 2012

Tart and Sweet

There was no way that these lime bars weren't going to be perfection.  A graham cracker crust studded with bright green pistachios and lime zest?  A simple custard-like filling made with just sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and 2 egg yolks?  I mean have you ever just dipped a spoon into a can of sweetened condensed milk?  It's so dreamy.  These bars are so dreamy.

I have this vision that these would make a nice dainty dessert to serve after a weekend brunch or a leisurely afternoon tea.  Instead of  baking in a 8-inch square pan, use an 8-inch spring form.  Press the crust just onto the bottom and bake as instructed.  Once the crust has cooled, smear a thin layer of raspberry jam (the kind with seeds!) over the whole thing and then carefully top with the custard.  Bake again until set.  Cut into slivers and admire the pretty colorful layers.

Either way, in slivers or squares these zippy lime bars are the bee's knees.  The cat's pajamas.  They're like the love child of lemon bars and key lime pie, with a little pistachio thrown into the mix.  It might be the sugar talking here, but limes just may be my new favorite citrus.

Lime Squares with Pistachios and Graham
Adapted from Martha Stewart

There was some emphasis in the original recipe to use unsalted butter and raw unsalted pistachios so that the bars don't come out too salty. But I'm here to say that I only had salted butter and salted pistachios in their shell, and everything came out a-okay. Not salty at all. Just maybe avoid the shelled pistachio nutmeats that are salted. And though it should go without saying, none of that bottled lime juice either (yick!), you only have to squeeze about 4 limes here.

16 squares

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
4 ounces graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lime zest

2 large egg yolks
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an entire 8x8 baking dish with foil. Spray with non-stick spray.

In a food processor, finely grind pistachios with graham crackers, sugar, and zest. Blend in butter. Press mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake until lightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool crust, 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Add lime juice; whisk until smooth. Pour filling into cooled crust; carefully spread to edges. Bake until set, about 15 minutes. Cool in pan on rack; then chill at least 1 hour before serving. Using the foil overhang, lift out of pan, and transfer to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut into 16 squares, wiping knife between each cut.

May 4, 2012

The Prickly Bits

Have you had cactus paddles - aka nopales - before?  They have a mild flavor not unlike green beans and kind of squeak between your teeth when you bite into them too.  Nopales are a bit notorious for having some of that slime factor the way okra does, but there are ways to get around that.  Namely, grilling.  I couldn't tell you why or how (the high heat might have something to do with it), but I can highly recommend you try them.  Other excellent ways to avoid the slime factor include staying away from canned or bottled versions of this vegetable, it's best fresh.

I've been seeing a lot more of these nopales pop up in the mexican produce market I frequent, so I assume spring must be their peak season.  The paddles are roughly the size of a large hand and usually still have their nasty spines intact.  You can also find them prepped and chopped in bags too, but those ones are hard to grill (obviously).  A simple swipe of a paring knife down the face and along the edges is all it takes to clean them up, and if you're careful, you'll only get poked maybe once or twice.  No big deal.

Now back to the grilling.  It's what brings this salad together.  The whole dish is kind of like a lighter version of mexican grilled corn, without the mayonnaise and the corn getting stuck in between your teeth. The nopales and corn get tossed with a zippy lime, cumin and olive oil dressing and then it's topped with chopped cilantro and mild queso fresco.  A little sliced avocado for good measure and you're good to go.

We enjoyed this as a salad, but you could absolutely go the taco route too if you're looking for more of a meal.  Either use this as the filling on its own and top with a good smoky-spicy hot sauce, or add in some cubed sautéed sweet potatoes and black beans.

As for me this weekend?  I'll just have to find room for more of this salad in between all the chips and salsa and grapefruit margaritas.  Oh yes, it's Cinco de Mayo!

Grilled Nopales and Corn Salad
Adapted from TheKitchn

If it's still a bit early for corn on the cob where you are, you can use frozen corn kernels and cook them in a hot skillet with a bit of olive oil to get a bit of that char going on. As for the nopales, I suppose you could use a stovetop grill pan but it's much more magical when cooked on an actual grill.  A little chile powder sprinkled over the top would be excellent as well.

4 servings

8 nopales, or cactus paddles
2 ears of sweet white corn
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 lime for juicing
a pinch of ground cumin
a handful of cilantro, chopped
1 avocado
1/2 cup queso fresco

Clean and prepare the nopales. Cut each paddle into 1/3-inch strips, cutting to almost, but stoping just short (about 1-inch) of the stem end. It should resemble a fan or a hand. Brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Shuck corn and brush with olive oil.
Grill the nopales and corn until soft and slightly charred. The nopales should take about 5 minutes on each side; similar for the corn. Let cool, then cut nopales into 1-inch slices and cut corn kernels off the cob.

In a large bowl, combine nopales, corn, lime juice, cumin, cilantro, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, garnish with sliced avocado and queso fresco.

April 30, 2012

Spring, Sandwiched

I've had this sandwich bookmarked for a few weeks now.  But a few weeks ago the only asparagus I could find was pencil thin, limp and priced way too high.  These are not the qualities I look for when shopping.  Instead I just stared longingly at it on my computer screen, imagining its fresh flavor, its perfect representation of spring.   I needed this sandwich in my life.

Something familiar was speaking to me, but it took me a while to connect the dots.  You see, this is practically the spring vegetable version of the tuna nicoise sandwich I made way back when.  Almost.  This one is more elemental, simple.  You char some asparagus in a skillet, just enough to get a bit of color and caramelization on the outside, but keep some of that lovely crunch.  In the pan with that asparagus goes some crushed garlic cloves that first flavor the oil, then once they soften and sweeten a bit, get smeared on the bread.  The eggs, with their deep golden yolks (straight from some happy chickens on a friend's farm), lend some creaminess to the otherwise bright flavors.  Some mustard, my favorite pickled red onions, a squeeze of lemon and a good helping of dill round out the ingredients.  It sounds like more work than it actually is.

Asparagus is now flooding the markets and I've already begun to think of new ways to redo this sandwich.  Keep the asparagus as is, top it with a bit of sauce gribiche a handful of baby lettuces, thinly sliced cucumber and a few chopped kalamata olives.  Or toss lightly steamed asparagus in a mustard and caper vinaigrette and lay it over wild arugula.  Then pile on the hard boiled eggs, pickled red onion and fresh tarragon.  Each a new springtime collaboration.

Pair any of these with a colorful fruit salad and a chilled bottle of rosé and have yourself a perfect picnic.

Spring Asparagus Sandwiches
Adapted from TheKitchn

Measurements are hardly important here, but be sure to use the best quality and freshest ingredients. They're fantastic still slightly warm right after assembling, but if you don't mind sacrificing some crunch from the bread, wrap it all up and let it sit together in the fridge for a while before serving.  Perfect for a spring picnic.

Serves 2

about 12 medium spears of asparagus
2 pieces of baguettes, about 6"-7" inches long
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 cup pickled red onions
2 tablespoons French mustard
lemon juice to taste
fresh dill
salt and pepper

Trim the asparagus by cutting or breaking off the woody ends, then cut the spears in half length–wise as best you can.  Slice your hard boiled eggs.

In a large skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the 2 cloves of smashed garlic. Sear the asparagus spears, about 3 minutes on each side, then remove from pan. You want a little bit of char, so don't move the asparagus very often. Split the baguette pieces in half.  Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and toast the baguettes, cut side down in the same skillet just until it turns a bit golden.  Scrape/smear the garlic cloves that were cooked with the asparagus on one side of the toasted baguette, on the other side smear the mustard. 

Place half the asparagus on each sandwich, topped with sliced egg, dill, pickled onion and squeeze a little lemon over everything. Season with salt and pepper.

April 27, 2012

As Simple as....

What do you do when your fridge is overwhelmed with vegetables? Make stir fry of course! Actually, for how often my fridge is overwhelmed with vegetables (a totally good problem, by the way) I hardly ever make stir fry. It's just another one of those obvious things I overlook.

But the stars were aligned in just the right way the other night and this stir fry came to be. I had just picked up another gorgeous Mystery Box from Mariquita Farms that was just over flowing with broccoli de ciccio, colorful baby carrots, green onions and a big perky bunch of mizuna. It was on this same day that I happened across a recipe from Epicurious and dinner practically made itself - you know, after I did all the chopping and prepping.  There were some mushrooms that needed using up too, so they made their way into the mix.

Listen, a stir fry isn't the kind of thing you even need a recipe for really, but sometimes it's good to have a guide. The crunchiest ingredients go in first, use high heat and stir/toss frequently, don't even think about over cooking it, the fresh snap when you bite down is good!  And the suggestion to toss in your spicy, lacy leaves of mizuna (or mustard greens or bok choy) is pretty helpful too. Leaves on those cute flowering heads of broccoli? Absolutely include them. In the end it just becomes a beautiful tangled mess of colorful vegetables and tofu, served over some brown rice and you're looking mighty healthy.  Other fantastic additions/substitutions could be sliced bell peppers, snow peas, maybe even some fresh bean sprouts right before serving.

This isn't a game changer of a recipe, but sometimes it's just nice to have a reminder to make something simple like stir fry.

Stir Fry with Mizuna and Tofu
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2011

The sauce for this stir fry is pretty light in the flavor department. Hints of it here and there, just enough to give it final bright boost. Of course if you've got another favorite sauce, it would totally work here. I'd also consider adding a dollop of sriracha to the final soy/vinegar sauce, or else put a few drops on top once you plate it.

4 servings

4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, divided
1 14-ounce container extra-firm tofu, drained
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 -3 cups broccoli di ciccio (or broccolini), chopped; stems, leaves and all
2 cups mixed baby carrots
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 big bunch mizuna, any tough stems removed
salt and white pepper

brown rice, for serving

Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar in bowl.

Stack 2 paper towels on work surface. Cut tofu crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices; cut each slice crosswise in half. Arrange tofu on paper towels and let stand 10 minutes. Pat top of tofu dry.

Heat peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu and cook, without moving, until golden brown on bottom, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer tofu to paper towel to drain, then place tofu on sheet of foil and brush both sides with soy sauce mixture.

Wipe out any peanut oil from skillet. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil and place skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, ginger, and garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli and toss just until it turns bright green. Add carrots, then mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture. Add mizuna in 2 batches, tossing to wilt before adding more, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. Season greens with salt and pepper. Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 teaspoons vinegar and toss to coat. Add tofu to skillet. Toss again, gently to blend. Season with salt and white pepper if desired. Transfer to platter.

April 25, 2012

The Great (Veggie Burger) Hunt

I am a woman obsessed. On an endless quest for the perfect veggie burger, and not the store bought kind either.  My teenage years spent as a vegetarian ruined those for me.  Plus, let's not kid ourselves, they're a rather processed food.

I don't want a veggie burger that's trying to be anything like meat.  No offense to regular burgers out there - because I love those too - it's just that I don't see the point of not eating meat but still wishing that it's replacement was vaguely meaty.  My ideal veggie burger would be free of the sog factor and not one bit mushy. It would retain it's ability to stand up to a good bun.  It would be a big vegetable party in my mouth.  

If I had any intelligence my quest would have stopped here.  I would have just put the search on permanent sabbatical and called it a day.  No really, those beet burgers are out of control delicious (if a bit labor intensive) and I would happily eat them forever.  But no.  I still give into the draw of each new veggie burger recipe I come across, hoping and praying that this next one will be "the one".  Alas, most are not and I'm left disappointed.

This burger though, it has great potential.  It's got the flavor down and it's not too fussy to make.  Black beans and quinoa are a great pair.  The beans kinda glue the patty together and the nutty flavor of the quinoa makes for a hearty flavor.  Studded throughout with bits of roasted red pepper and cilantro and enhanced with earthy spiced like cumin and paprika, this veggie burger was about this close to perfect.  Where it falls short is in the texture department.  It still mushes out the sides of the bun, it still crumbles if not perfectly balanced when stacked with ingredients.

However, I'm fairly confident that this is a correctable problem.  Adding a few eggs to the mixture before chilling would probably go a long way towards helping this patty retain a sturdy shape.  (I was hoping the addition of panko crumbs and the chilling before cooking would be the golden ticket, but you know, live and learn.)  I kept the preparation pretty standard - lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayonnaise and a good bun - and I'd recommend the same to you.  There's already a lot going on in there, no need to pile much more on.

And if you try them with eggs?  Please report back.  The weather is warming up and I see the need for veggie burgers in my life greatly increasing.

Quinoa and Black Bean Burgers

There are two parts here I know you'll be tempted to skip, but please don't.   The first is chilling the mixture in the fridge for about an hour.  The second is finishing them off in the oven.  The thing about veggie burgers is that they tend to be a little too moist and squishy in the center and that time in the fridge help the panko crumbs suck up excess moisture and the extra 20 minutes in the oven helps them firm up. That being said, mine still wanted very badly to crumble and fall apart (but not nearly as bas as when I didn't bake them!), so I think the addition of 2 or so eggs to the mixture would have really helped.

8 veggie burgers

1- 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1.4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed

In a medium sized pan heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sautee shallots just until translucent (1-2 minutes), then add garlic and sautee about 30 seconds more. Toss in the roasted red bell pepper and turn off the heat.

Next, in a food processor, add the beans, sauteed shallot mixture, cumin, smoked paprika, and good pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until just combined. Add the cooked quinoa and cilantro and again pulse until combined and cilantro has been chopped up a bit. Remove to bowl, add panko crumbs and stir. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Form mixtures into palm-sized or slightly larger burger patties, you should get about 8.

Heat remaining oil in the same pan you cooked the shallots in. Sear each patty for about 3-4 minutes on each side until nice and browned. Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Assemble as you like and eat!

April 16, 2012

Jam and Oats

There is a trend among my favorite-est cookies; they're mainly of the oatmeal variety.  I like them chewy and studded with raisins and toasted walnuts.  I adore them during the holidays, spread out thinly and lace-like and perfumed with shredded coconut.  I even love them if there's chocolate chips instead of raisins, but not quite as much.

I think what gets me about oatmeal cookies, of the non-chocolate chip variety, is that they're typically less sweet.  Or else the sweet is balanced out by the hearty chew of the oatmeal.  Either way, I'm into it.

These guys, plopped onto well-loved cookie sheets, thumbprints pressed into their centers to be filled with a dollop of jam?  I love them too.  The soft oatmeal cookie is warmed with the slightest hint of cinnamon and brightened with a fruity center.  But wait!  There is something even better here.  This recipe is really just a jumping off point, for you to get creative with.  I see stone fruit preserves and cardamom scented cookies.  Raspberry jam and lemony oatmeal bases.  Peach and ginger.  I kept it pretty safe with the blackberry and cinnamon combo (a winning combination to be sure!), but that's only because it's what I had around.

Bonus points for whipping up recipes with pantry staples.

Oatmeal Jammys
recipe from The Treats Truck Baking Book

The possibilities with these cookies are endless. Just swap out equal quantities of the dried spices and preserves and create all new cookies.  Cardamom, cinnamon, ground ginger all would be fantastic, as would a little freshly grated lemon zest.  Any jam or preserve will do, but i would probably stay away from jelly.  A little texture does these cookies good.

About 2 dozen cookies
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
jams or preserves

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease or line baking sheets.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing until fully incorporated. Mix in oats.  Dough will be a bit sticky, but not unmanageably so.

Scoop dough onto prepared pans using a spoon and place them about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb, make a hollow in each cookie. Dipping your thumb in warm water beforehand will help keep the dough from sticking.  Fill each hollow with jam (or preserves).

Bake 12-14 minutes, until cookies are fully baked and the edges are golden.

April 4, 2012

Spring Green

Have you ever had fresh broccoli?  Like picked just hours before eating, fresh?  Oh man, it's a game changer.  How anyone ever used the word bitter to describe its taste will totally escape you when you eat it that fresh.  It's sweet and mild and the "green" flavor is incredibly mellow.  This stuff ruins your commercial grocery store broccoli - and that's a good thing.

After working at a farmer's market, I take anyone's declaration that they don't care for a certain food (more specifically vegetables and fruits) as a personal challenge.  I'm convinced that they need only to try it fresh, sold to them by the same hands that grew and harvested that food to change their minds and make them a believer.  Yep, I'm that person.

You know who else I am?  I'm the one who, when you invite me over for dinner, or a potluck, or insert event here where there is this food, I bring the salad.  Or some vegetable.  I always show up with the "healthy" dish, it never fails.  I don't mean it as a commentary on what you're serving and I'm certainly not judging you (I like you! We're friends!  Your food is probably good too!), it's just that I suffer from crippling anxiety that there will be no vegetables for me to eat.

This salad of broccoli and quinoa is just the kind of dish you'd expect me to show up with for a few reasons.  First, it's just so dang pretty when it's plated.  When you top it all off with toasted sliced almonds, creamy avocado pieces and crumbled feta, it dosen't look like you're trying to cram some sort of health food down people's throats.  Second, it packs quite the vegetable punch.  Sure you can see the sweet little broccoli florets tucked in there, but every single bit of this quinoa is coated in a broccoli pesto that is to die for.  Using the freshest broccoli and just barely steaming it keep it's sweet quality intact and ensures there's no bitter taste or sulfurous smell.  What's that you say?  You don't like broccoli?  We'll see about that...

Double Broccoli Quinoa
Adapted from 101cookbooks

This is certainly a fine dish for leftovers or making ahead, but you're best off storing the elements (the quinoa, the broccoli pesto, the toppings) separately and mixing just before serving. Also, as is frequently the case with raw garlic in dishes, the longer the pesto sits, the more potent the garlic flavor gets. If the idea of a strong garlic flavor is off putting to you (or you're planning on bringing the leftovers to work for lunch) consider using less garlic, or roasted garlic in it's place could be nice too.

4-6 servings

3 cups cooked quinoa*
5 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems
3 medium garlic cloves
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup milk
crumbled feta
sliced avocado

*To cook quinoa: rinse one cup of dry quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan heat the quinoa, two cups of water, and a few big pinches of salt until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.

In a big pot just barely steam the broccoli florets for 1 minute. They should turn bright green, but remain crisp and sweet. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside.

To make the broccoli pesto puree two cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, 1/2 cup of the almonds, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and milk and pulse until smooth.

Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with the broccoli pesto. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with the remaining almonds, some sliced avocado and crumbled feta cheese.

March 22, 2012

Wine and Dine

Things to eat when it's blustery and rainy out:  this red wine spaghetti. 

Isn't it pretty?  That tangle of deep mauve noodles on the plate, punctuated with bright flecks of parsley?  Nestled in that mess are crunchy pieces of toasted walnuts, red pepper flakes and just softened bits of fresh garlic too.  But that spaghetti, actually cooked in red wine - total revelation.  It picks up a lot of earthiness and a little fruitiness and all of that brings out all the natural nuttiness of the pasta.

This is the kind of pasta you would serve friends that looks and sounds way fancier than it actually is.  Throw a little roasted broccolini, or my new favorite broccoli di cicco, on that plate and you've got quite the elegant meal.  Not that elegance is exclusively for sharing with friends or that this dinner isn't perfectly appropriate for say, a Wednesday night dinner either.  Because that's just how this plate went down.  On  a weeknight.  Just D and I.  Paired up with what remained of the bottle of red wine.

But let me not throw you out into the world of cooking pasta in red wine without a few ground rules.  You must, I mean must, use a wine that you would totally drink.  Think about it.  The pasta will be soaking up this liquid so whatever flavor the wine has, it's sure to impart some of that to the finished dish. Something in the $10 range.  Something like Zinfandel or Merlot - think less dry, more jammy.  Bonus if you only make a half recipe like I did, because then you have the other half of the bottle to enjoy with dinner.  Also, don't try to fancy this up and use fresh pasta.  It's cooking time is too brief for the red wine to do it's magic.  Just buy a good quality brand of dry pasta.  Lastly, this is a really simple recipe where each ingredient shares in the spotlight, so you know, use the good quality stuff.

Red Wine Spaghetti with Walnuts
Adapted from Food and Wine

A few key things with this recipe. As with most sauceless pastas, this was best when eaten immediately after making, the leftovers just didn't pop. Also, use a wine you would drink. It dosen't have to be fancy, something in the $10 range maybe. Since the pasta soaks up a considerable amount of the wine, it's flavor profile will obviously be contributing to the final dish. I used a Zinfandel, but I think a Merlot could work here too. And if you like whole wheat pastas, a good quality brand could translate well here adding something a little more nutty and toothsome.

4-6 servings

5 cups water
3 1/4 cups dry red wine
3/4 pound dry spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
a big handful of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, combine the water with 3 cups of the wine and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and season with salt.Cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve, passing grated cheese at the table.

March 12, 2012

Transforming Colors

My mind must be somewhere else.  Dreaming up vacations, buried in books, bogged down in studying for midterms.  It's certainly nowhere near the kitchen.

Ridiculous things have transpired there, things that I know better than to do.  Like cooking red cabbage in a cast iron skillet.  I've been so into using mine for everything lately; for perfectly crusty grilled cheese, for big puffy german pancakes or a good deeply golden sauté of veggies, that I absentmindedly tossed some red cabbage in there without thinking.  Until about 30 seconds later when bits of blue started popping up. Fun if you're doing a science experiment, or fancy yourself a Dr. Seuss inspired meal, but I'm not too into eating unnaturally blue foods so I quickly grabbed the hot skillet and transfered it all over to a non-reactive cooking vessel.  Doh!

Then the other day I made some turnip and potato pancakes.  Just grated up the white starchy roots, mixed it with an egg, some flour and chopped green onions and got to frying (in my cast iron skillet, naturally).  But the batch was bigger than I anticipated and I just wanted to eat dinner so I only fried up about half and told myself to cook the rest up later.  Except, do you know what happens to raw grated potatoes when you just let them sit out?  They oxidize.  They turn black.  People, I know this.  I've fished out bits of oxidized grated potatoes from my drain before that look more like a hairball or something dead.  It's gross.  But set them aside I did, only to find an unappealing grey mixture left in the bowl.  These have not been my finest hours.

All things considered, a green smoothie doesn't seem so out of place then.  Except this was no accident.  And green smoothies/juices are everywhere these days.  This one is a particularly fine example with the addition of an orange and a frozen banana, and coconut water if you're into that sort of thing.  I packed in a bunch of spinach and a squeeze of lemon juice and let my (crappy) blender do the work.  It's bright and tasty and we pretty much drank it every day for a week until the giant bag of spinach I got from Mariquita Farms ran out.

Black potatoes?  Blue cabbage?  Whatever, I have my green smoothie to comfort me.

Greensicle Smoothie
Adapted from Puree Juice Bar via Tasting Table

I've given you the recipe using spinach, but kale (as it was originally written) and baby chard work just as well. I increased the amount of green from 1/2 cup to 3 - 4 cups because it seemed like so little, and putting more in hardly changes the flavor. If you use all spinach the banana and sweetness of the orange really come through. In the batch that I made with half spinach and half baby chard, I started to get hints of vegetable. Adjust according to taste.

2 (16oz) drinks
3 - 4 cups chopped spinach
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 oranges, segmented and chopped
1 frozen banana, cut into chunks
1 cup coconut water

Put all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth.

February 24, 2012

Sunny in the City

Can I just give you a recipe today? You know, skip the story, the lengthy description and just give you the facts? It's perfect outside and I really can't be bothered with much else.

Three cheers for what is apparently the mildest most perfect San Francisco winter in the the history of ever!  Last night at nearly midnight it was 65F out, warm and still. In celebration I dug out the copy of Saveur magazine that we inherited with the apartment (an issue from August, I believe) and went straight to this salmon recipe.  Madhur Jaffrey knows what's up.  Chunks of salmon bathing in a bright and zingy mustard sauce, not what I'd picture as being Indian, but oh-so-tasty anyway.

There were some last minute modifications of course, due to my lack of interest in replenishing my out of stock spices on short notice.  Used the last of the brown mustard seeds pickling this summer! What I thought were cumin seeds were actually caraway seeds! Ground fennel instead of, you guessed it, whole seeds!  Deal with it.  But if you can, make it how it's written.

Unless you have sunshine to enjoy instead.

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce
from Saveur Magazine, Issue #140

This isn't so much a curry as it is some salmon with a little extra sauce to spoon over the top. Serve it with some plain basmati rice and a sautéed green of your choice and let it all mingle on your plate. We squeezed a little extra lemon on the greens, but that's about all the dressing this plate needs.

4 servings

3/4 pound skinless wild salmon filets, cut into large chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon mustard powder
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 serrano chiles, split

Rub fish evenly with half of the salt, turmeric, and cayenne; set aside. In a bowl, stir remaining salt, turmeric, and cayenne with powder and 1/2 cup water; set slurry aside.

Heat oil in 12″ skillet over medium-high heat; add mustard seeds; cook for 1–2 minutes. Add cumin and fennel, cook for 30 seconds; add slurry mixture and chiles. Add fish, and cook, basting, until done, about 10 minutes.