December 30, 2013

Beet Carpaccio

Every Christmas, my husband gives me a cookbook. He usually browses the pages before he wraps it and writes a little note indicating which recipes he like me to try. I realize this sounds a bit like the old yarn about a husband giving his wife a vacuum or washing machine or something else that will add more to his comfort and less to her joy, but not in this case.  It's my favorite gift because it's a gesture that says he really knows me and, as my friend Royce who reads all matter of relationship books would say, he's speaking my love language. I love to cook. I love it when my cooking is appreciated and I really love it when someone asks me to cook something specific (especially if it's something I've made before that they enjoyed).

This recipe was inspired by a cookbook he gave me about 10 years ago - The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver - a chef whose casual, imprecise style really suits me. He made it with beef (delicious). I made it with beets, turning it into a good side dish or appetizer. Earthy beets, a bite from the horseradish and tiny fried onion rings for a bit of salty, crispy garnish.

December 26, 2013

Sticky Sriracha Wings

Sriracha Chicken Wings

Sriracha Chicken Wings

Chicken wings can be a glorious thing when they're fresh, hot and coated with great sauce (or great spice like this recipe I want to try when I work up the nerve). But I've eaten a lot of mediocre wings with a flabby texture that only serve to remind me how unhealthy they are and maybe not worth the calories. So I've taken to trimming the excess skin off the little appendages before I cook them. I learned this trick from my dad who goes at his wings* like a surgeon with a straight edge razor and makes them almost heart-healthy. I'm less rigorous and just look for any little flaps that aren't firmly adhered to the meat.  I think it's worth the effort. 

This version is spicy and garlicky with that addictive Sriracha flavor.  I made two pounds and probably should have doubled it for my family of four. A hit with everyone, these are quick to make because there's no need to marinate. You can make the sauce while the wings bake and bring them together in the last 10 minutes. 

* I just realized this makes it sound like my dad's a bird. He's not. 

December 19, 2013

Parsley Potatoes

parsley potatoes

The more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I realize that successful cooking is about technique. That specialized knowledge of how to prepare food that transforms simple foodstuffs into something special. And it's most exciting when the foods are humble, available and cheap. Enter potatoes, parsley, butter and salt. The preparation is equally straightforward. You don't have to clarify or zest or break out your mandoline. The technique at play is roasting - dry heat cooking that browns and caramelizes the surface of food and creates rich flavor. Slice, salt, roast. The only frivolity is a sprightly parsley leaf - added for nothing more than whimsy and because whoever you make them for will feel just a little special.

Note: I think these would be a great appetizer with a little dollop of....use your imagination. I would love a bit of salty caviar and creme fraiche (humble and haute?) but I probably wouldn't get it. Santa, if you're reading this...lots of room in my stocking...

December 15, 2013

Sugared and Spiced and Everything...Nuts

I first tried these at a sample station at our neighborhood co-op. Don't you love a good grocery store sample? They were made by Kate Moore, a local chef and cooking instructor (see her class line-up here) and she was nice enough to share the recipe.

They have a delicious crust of sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and a little chai flavor from the cardamom (my addition - if that doesn't sound groovy to you, just leave it out). There's a hint of heat from the cayenne, but it's subtle and not likely to bother anyone. Quick to make (and consume) and a nice gift loaded into a pretty jar.

These are equally good with a cold beer or a cup of hot tea. How many things can you say that about?

December 2, 2013

Shoestring Potato Fries (Baked)

Shoestring Potato Fries

This is an easy and healthy way to make crispy shoestring potato fries at home in your oven. The key is to soak the potatoes before baking to remove some of their starch. Starch, I learned, attracts moisture and makes the potatoes softer (vs. starch in a shirt which makes it stiffer/crunchier). Easy - no mess - no guilt. 

Baked Shoestring Potato Fries
Makes enough for 1 large or 2 small servings

1 russet potato
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 450ยบ

2. Scrub potato and slice lengthwise into thin (1/8") slices (I used my mandoline). Stack and slice again into long, thin matchsticks. The more uniform the fries are, the more evenly they'll cook. Submerge in cold water for 20 minutes or longer (you can do this ahead of time and place bowl in refrigerator).

3. Drain potatoes and place on clean towel. Pat dry with paper towels (as dry as you can get them so the oil will adhere). Toss in a bowl with oil and salt. Spread out on a sheet pan(s) making sure the potatoes don't touch each other (or they'll steam and not get as crispy) and bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing once halfway through, until brown. 

Shoestring Chili Fries
Makes good chili fries too...

November 25, 2013

Eating Clean: Salmon with Arugula Salad

perfect pan seared salmon

I can't tell you the number of times I've taken a perfect fillet of salmon and cooked the smithereens out of it - still tasty but dryish with white blobs popping out like acne on a smooth young face.  The salmon I crave is simply prepared with a lightly browned crust and tender, buttery fish inside. The flavor and texture is sublime and it celebrates the natural splendor of the thing. But I've not been able to master it.

Lucky for me I recorded an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS that happened to be about fish. They demonstrated a salmon preparation (albeit with a sugar/soy glaze) that achieves what I was looking for. The technique is a quick sear on the stovetop followed by a short bake in a low oven. It's kind of foolproof and I realized my error had been trying to cook it with too much heat.

I made this twice over the weekend and it turned out beautifully each time (and my skin is just glowing from all the fatty acids). Simple, once you know how - clean and perfect before the holiday indulgences commence.

November 22, 2013

Cranberry Blueberry Shortcake with Coconut Whipped Cream

Cranberry Blueberry Shortcake with Coconut Whipped Cream

I'm pumpkin'd out this year. I blame it on Costco rolling out their ridiculously cheap and delicious pumpkin pies just after Labor Day. Add to that pumpkin muffins, lattes, bars and scones and I'm pretty much ready for a change by Thanksgiving. It's so American to beat a good idea to death. Kind of like what I'm doing with these biscuits (I can't help it - they're one of my favorite things and I'm just bursting with pride that I can make them).

I love cranberries and, fortunately, haven't had a single one yet so I thought of this dessert as an alternative to pumpkin pie (or as a way to use leftover biscuits and cranberry sauce). A little cranberry goes a long way so I added a healthy amount of blueberries (I also split the cranberries so they're closer in size to the blueberries). Lime stands in place for traditional orange and provides a nice lift. Lime is sort of tropical so I pulled in some whipped coconut milk to the traditional shortcake cream. Whipped coconut milk is a vegan dessert trick (thank you post punk kitchen) and couldn't be easier - just skim the thick part of the milk from a can, whip with a little sugar and you're done. I mixed half coconut and half heavy cream to keep it subtle. You want to put your can of coconut milk in the refrigerator the night before so it's nice and cold. You could also use pound or angel food cake in place of the biscuits.

November 19, 2013

Carrots & Parsnips with Walnuts

Braised Carrots & Parsnips with Walnut Sauce

No one ever volunteers to bring the vegetable on Thanksgiving and I'm not sure why. Someone nabs dessert right off, appetizer, green salad, wine, even dressing. Maybe people don't like cooked vegetables all that much? They don't impress? Kids make a face? Don't know, but I hope they'll enjoy this one because everyone like carrots, right? I added some parsnips too because even though they're kind of homely, they have nutty sweet flavor and are quite carrot-like in their texture. The walnut dressing is so delicious - it would be good on any roasted vegetable.

It's an easy stove-top preparation. Braise the carrots and parsnips, remove, quick saute the sauce ingredients, add the veg back in and you're done. This would be equally good with green beans. You can even use little bagged carrot nubbins' to save time. Just cut the parsnips, if using, the same size.

November 15, 2013

Brown Butter Lemon Pasta

Brown Butter Lemon Pasta

Brown Butter Lemon Pasta

I know a guy who has dinner almost every Sunday at his mother's house. Always has. He did it when he was just out of college, single and living in his first place and he goes now that he's married with kids of his own. He's not a case of arrested development or Norman Bates. He's a regular guy who likes his mom and honors her by giving the ultimate gift, time. I don't even think she's a spectacular cook - it's not about that. It's comfortable...constant, a way of staying grounded and in touch with who you are. She cooks, makes plenty, keeps the door open and the conversation light.

This appeals to me because, even though my kids are young, I'm a little nuts thinking about the future when they're off in the world and I won't get to see them as much as I do now. Makes me feel preemptively sad. It's a long way off, but if I could lock in Sunday night dinner...well....that's a worthy goal.

I figure a good way to lay the groundwork is to start making easy delicious food on Sundays. Food that doesn't make me crazy with the prep work so I can stay present and relaxed. Food with no agenda other than to taste great and not be too fussy.

This weeks Sunday dinner was brown butter pasta. I've been a devout olive oil girl for most of my adult life but man, let me tell you, butter (particularly when sauteed with garlic, anchovies and lemon) kicks the pants off olive oil. Worthy calories - for a most worthy Sunday dinner.

I love this long fusilli - substantial with nice bouncy mouthfeel.

November 11, 2013

Sour Cream Cookies

This recipe comes from a good friend of mine named Jeano. We met in college and she was and is just the coolest girl ever. Whip smart, funny as hell, well read, a skilled baker, totally devoted to her big extended Nebraskan family, and has great great personal style. The last time we got together she had on her dad's old (but well-preserved) army dress shirt complete with insignia and honors, sparkly jewelry, a pair of slinky rock and roll black pants and fabulous shoes (always fabulous shoes). I could never pull it off but she wore it lightly and confidently. Makes me smile, a ballsy outfit like that.  She's one-in-a-million.

She sent me this recipe for sour cream cookies with a note that said she sometimes makes a Nutella sandwich out of them. Strange mash-up, but knowing her I figured it was probably very tasty. The cookies by themselves are delicious, soft and crispy with a whisper of lemon flavor. I was feeling daring so I brushed half with chocolate and pressed them in coconut flakes. Impossible to eat just one.

November 6, 2013

Beet and Goat Cheese Biscuit Sandwich

Beet and Goat Cheese Biscuit Sandwich

Beet and Goat Cheese Biscuit Sandwich

Not too long after my first daughter was born, I visited my dad and his wife down in Texas where they had landed for a job. We went to lunch at the home of a friend of theirs, a woman with a few young children of her own. As we were swapping Emergency Room stories (if you have children, you've got 'em) she told one about when her son was a toddler and had tumbled into the fireplace surround and split his forehead open. She recalled in her sweet drawl "I had turned around just for a second to take a pan of biscuits out of the oven and....." I didn't hear another word. The casualness with which she said it. As though it was something she did ALL THE TIME, everyday, making biscuits. Like emptying the dishwasher or grabbing the mail.  My head swam. I murmured some sympathetic noises about her son's cracked open head wanting to get back to those biscuits. How do you make them? Is it hard? How long does it take? Do you have any here now?

It was not to be. She served soup and salad and we never got to talk about all I usually want to talk about (besides books and movies), food. Specifically this glorious beacon of the south, the biscuit. If you are a devoted reader of this blog (mom) you'll recall I finally nailed a good biscuit recipe last spring. Why not make a savory sandwich out of it? Beets that are fried for a little texture, beet greens or arugula for crunch, red onions (pickled or not) for tang, goat cheese for creamy and balsamic for acid. If you have a bit of crispy bacon or pancetta on hand and want to add that too, I won't mind.

November 2, 2013

Apple Gratin

Apple Gratin, Baked Apple

Apple Gratin, Baked Apple

This apple gratin is so-called because it has lots of thin layers of perfect fall apple, not because it has cheesy richness associated with the best known gratin, potato. I know some people like cheese and apples together but I am not one of them. It's my only food-fussy. I don't mix sweet and savory - very contrary to current trends that put raisins in tapenade and honey on pork (seriously, does that really sound good to anyone?). There are a few bits I enjoy - some Vietnamese dishes come to mind, but for the most part when I see fruit in the salad or brown sugar on the salmon, I pass. Every once in awhile I'll have a taste, just to make sure my taste buds haven't changed their mind (as I would instruct my preschool kids to do) but nope, they haven't. 

This simple pleasure is naturally sweet and casually elegant. Healthy too (the ice cream is optional). You'll need two ramekins which, if you don't have, are great little dishes to have around for dips, snacks and mise-en-place. Dips and snacks and mise-en-place, Oh My!

October 29, 2013

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich (that sandwich from Serious Eats)

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

Everything about this sandwich is right up my alley. Crispy fried cauliflower, garlicky sauteed kale,  salty-sour peppers, creamy provolone cheese and crispy soft bread. The inspiration comes from a picture of something similar on Serious Eats from a place in Boston called Strip-T's. I never thought of frying cauliflower but, like most fried things, it's real good.

This takes no time to put together and is very tasty. So tasty, I think I want to make it again today. Meaty, tangy, gooey sandwich satisfaction.

Hot dang - I think cauliflower might be the new bacon. Or at least the new kale.

October 25, 2013

Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

This is the best cake I've ever made. And it came at a good time because...

1. Yesterday the lab results from my annual physical came back and they informed me that I'm in early menopause. So that means, according to the film they suggested I watch called "Hot Flash Havoc" (really?), I will probably scarf half this cake, snarl at my family and then forget it ever happened. I really didn't expect to have to deal with this until I hit 50, so this is a surprise. Did I mention how old I am? No? Oh. Not 50.

2.  I foolishly signed up for a 10-mile (not 10K, mind you, 10 m i l e s) race tomorrow with my sister-in-law that I will probably start like a jack-rabbit and end feeling paralyzed because I've done no serious training and still think my body is 25 and can do that kind of thing. But as my hormone levels so kindly reminded me, no.

So a baking success was a bright spot. I've made lots of cakes and they've been good, but not without their density issues, namely high density (think banana bread). But not this one. Maybe it's the cake flour or the buttermilk or because I realized you really have to whip the butter, sugar and eggs into fluffy peaks before you add the dry ingredients (which are sifted and undisturbed) and then mix just until combined. I think that's the secret. Anyone?

Side note: I found a 10-year-old message thread on a baking site re. how to make cakes light and fluffy and commenters are still going strong. People are quoting Proust and Betty Crocker. Conclusion? Food is a great uniter. Cake, more so.

This spice cake is light and fluffy and flavorful and the frosting is simply perfection. Sick perfection. Sugar, butter, cream cheese perfect 10, first love perfection. It looks lighter on the sides than on the top because I made it two ways - one with white sugar and one with brown to see which was better. The verdict? Too close to call.

Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

October 22, 2013

Quinoa Squash Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

This time of year I'm saying my last farewells to summer lettuces, herbs and vegetables and begrudgingly welcoming cold weather staples back into my produce drawer. 

My reluctant autumn salad is composed of squash (local, inexpensive and plentiful) that is cubed and roasted, spinach (julienned to tame it's toughness), thinly sliced red onion and nutty red quinoa. A douse of spicy buttermilk dressing gives this some lushness and keeps it from being too virtuous. 

Quinoa Squash Salad with Spicy Buttermilk Dressing

I used acorn squash which is a BEAST to cut into cubes (the rind is thick and tough) but has such good flavor and holds up well under high heat roasting. 

And red quinoa because I've had a bag sitting in the cupboard for six months staring at me in judgement when I reach for the white flour, pasta or chocolate chips. 

October 18, 2013

Maple Cumin Carrots

This is straight from Food52 - one of my favorite food sites. It's surprising - the coriander and cumin seeds are abundant yet not overpowering (or terribly crunchy). The maple syrup is sweet but not cloying. The only change I made was to add a bit more salt to keep it perky. The recipe says it serves 4-6. No way. I'd say it serves two, or one hungry recipe tester (ahem). This would be a fun addition to a holiday meal - people would be impressed and it's a cinch. 

Maple and Cumin Carrots - click for recipe

From Food52

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