Category Archives: I cook

A spring salad

 

It may not look like much, but this salmon is easily the best fish I’ve ever cooked. I used Nigella Lawson’s recipe here  as a template, changing the marinade recipe a little bit (miso, maple, and soy sauce), but following her directions for the process and timing. It helps that I bought a nice piece of fish to start with, but the real trick is that I managed to avoid overcooking it and ended up with two portions of perfectly medium-rare, flaky salmon.

20140331-083955.jpgThen I made a salad of anything salad-y in the fridge: baby kale, chopped snap peas, roasted potatoes and tomatoes, chopped baby bok choy, a bit of avocado, and the last little bit of vinaigrette in the jar. It was flavorful and substantial but still light, and something I’d love to eat at least once a week for the next few months.

Late winter supper: spicy pork and mustard greens soup

This is an easy and tasty one that’s perfect for these waning days of winter: still warming and spicy and filling, but packed with the kind of flavorful, nutrient-dense greens that will be shooting up soon.

Other than not grinding the spices myself, I followed Bon Appetit’s recipe more or less to the letter. It’s fast, tasty, and a perfect balance between indulgent and healthful. It’s a keeper.

Turkey and spinach meatballs in tomato sauce

These were a mostly just a way to use up a lot of stuff we had hanging around in the fridge (spinach a day or so from dissolving into a mush, one random stale english muffin, a block of weird cheese from a Hickory Farms basket my mother sent us home with after Christmas), but they turned out to be delicious. I think there just isn’t a way to go wrong with seasoned meat cooked in tomato sauce.

Meatballs
1 lb. ground turkey
8 oz. baby spinach, lightly steamed and chopped, divided about in half
1 tbsp. Penzey’s Italian seasoning
6 oz. mild cheddar with vegetable bits, grated (any mild cheese would be fine)
one english muffin, blitzed into crumbs in the food processor (maybe 1/2 cup?)
salt and pepper

Mix the turkey, about half of the spinach, the cheese, and seasonings together, using a spatula or your hands. Add the crumbs gradually until the mixture holds together. Form into 1″ balls and brown in a bit of oil in whatever pan you’re going to use for the sauce. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pan and set aside.

Tomato sauce
2 small or 1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large cans whole tomatoes in juice
2 tbsp. Penzey’s Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
Sweat the onion and garlic in olive oil. If the meatballs left a lot of browned bits in the bottom of the pan, you may want to add a bit of wine or water to help scrape that up first. Don’t discard it though; it’ll add a lot of flavor. Just push it to the side of the pan while the onions cook. Add the tomatoes, squishing them through your fingers to help break them up, and the seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn it to medium-low and add the browned meatballs to the pot. Let the sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s thickened a bit and the meatballs are cooked. Add the remaining spinach to the pot and allow it to heat through. Eat over pasta or polenta.

Life hack: frozen oatmeal

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I took a page from Dinner with Julie‘s book and have started making a huge pot of oatmeal every few weeks. I freeze it in muffin tins, then pop the portions into freezer bags.

I’m something of a maximalist when it comes to oatmeal, so the ingredient list is long, but it would work just as well made plain. I use mostly steel-cut oats with some regular rolled oats (which basically dissolve during the long cooking time, adding a nice creaminess) and a bit of another grain or too–barley and/or quinoa, generally. Unsweetened dried coconut, two grated apples, a couple handfuls each of chopped dried apricots and whatever other dried fruit I have around (here, it’s a berry mix from Trader Joe’s with dried cherries, blueberries, and golden raisins). A bit of cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice. Chia seeds on top of each portion before they go into the freezer.

Then every day I take one (or two, if I know I won’t be able to eat lunch until late), put it in a wide-mouth mason jar with a drizzle of boiled cider, a splash of milk, and some frozen fruit, and take it to work. Using a jar means it doesn’t leak, and as long as I take the lid off, it’s microwave safe. It’s made my mornings run much more smoothly and I’m spending a lot less money buying breakfast that wouldn’t be nearly as good for me. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, but I think switching up the fruits and spices and add-ins would help if I ever get to that point.

Turkey burgers: finally, a use for chutney

Chutney is one of those things I’ve never really known how to use. It’s too savory to use on toast or in crepes the way I would with jam, but it’s too sweet to deploy as a sauce in most of the places I’d want to use sauce. I know “serve with cheese” is a standard instruction, but when I eat cheese, I want to taste the cheese. So, as much as I’ve always liked the idea of chutney, I never really used it for anything.

UNTIL NOW.

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I was making turkey burgers for dinner one night last week and was looking around the fridge for anything to throw into the meat mixture to make it taste like something when I found a jar of tomato-apple chutney in the door. The jar dates back to when I was writing for Serious Eats, and I think I had used a spoonful or so in a salad dressing a few months ago, but otherwise I hadn’t done anything with it for all of the reasons listed above. It turns out that the chutney was put to perfect use here: it adds a little moisture and flavor to the meat itself, and then works perfectly as a condiment with some sharp cheddar on the burgers themselves. This entire meal is now officially going into the regular dinner rotation.

Turkey burgers
1 lb. ground turkey
approx. 3 tbsp. chutney of your choice
approx. 2 tbsp. ground parmesan
2 tsp. seasoned salt
Mix together until well blended; form into patties. (I got five patties from the pound of turkey, but I was trying to make them on the small side to eat on english muffins.) Cook in a lightly oiled pan over medium heat until browned on both sides and cooked through. Serve on buns or english muffins with cheddar and more chutney.

The sweet potato fries I made to go with them were even easier: cut two sweet potatoes into matchsticks, toss with olive or coconut oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook on a cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven until they’re well browned on at least one side, stirring occasionally.

 

Tree-trimming party

As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to have a small tree-trimming gathering to keep us from wimping out on getting a tree. I would have loved to have had a huge party, but our cranky landlady lives directly below us and it’s not really an option. She delivered a blistering lecture the morning after our housewarming party (which admittedly was pretty big, but it ended by 11). Instead, we invited seven people over, two of whom are gluten intolerant. I didn’t want to do a full meal, just some snacks and a few sweet things, plus some seasonal tipples.

The menu:

  • A double batch of homemade onion dip (Halve, then thinly slice, seven onions. Salt and cook over low heat until very brown, add 1/2 tsp. cayenne and a hearty drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Mix the onions into 2 c. sour cream, half a package of cream cheese, and a few big spoonfuls of yogurt. The leftover bit, thinned with pasta cooking water, made a delicious sauce for last night’s dinner of sauteed vegetables and pasta)
  • Stuffed mushrooms with sausage, onions, mushroom stems, frozen spinach, and bits of cheese that needed using up.
  • The Wednesday Chef’s meatballs in tomato-chipotle sauce (scaled up to use a pound each of beef and pork; I used pre-ground spices and two big cans of whole tomatoes instead of fresh.) This was the first time I’d made these, but it won’t be the last. They were terrific. Next time I’ll grate the zucchini instead of chopping it though.
  • Smitten Kitchen’s cauliflower-feta fritters with finely grated parmesan in place of the flour. Bite-size, they looked remarkably like seared scallops. I hadn’t made these before either and they are officially my new favorite party food. They were really delicious–lemony and spicy and cauliflower-y–but crumbly and annoying to prepare, especially without the flour; next time I’ll add a mashed potato to the mix to help the mixture hold together. I did mix up some cumin yogurt to dip them in, but they really didn’t need anything. They were fantastic on their own.
  • A riff on Orangette’s chocolate building blocks made from a Trader Joe’s pound-plus dark chocolate bar and a bag of TJ’s nuts and fruits trail mix with almonds, walnuts, cashews, cranberries, blueberries, and a couple other things.
  • My mother’s recipe for peanut blossoms (peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s kiss on top).
  • These figgy pudding cookies, which I sort of screwed up. The dough was a sticky mess, and even though I knew the recipe called for rolling it out, there was no way that was happening. (Turns out I was supposed to refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours, but I hadn’t left myself enough time to do that.) So I put some parchment on a pizza pan and patted it out as best I could, then baked it until it was browned, and cut it into bars. For the glaze, I just added a splash of brandy and some of the milk the figs had steeped in to 2/3 c. or so confectioner’s sugar. I don’t know if anyone else even tasted these, but I absolutely love them.
  • Orangette’s family recipe for eggnog.
  • Mulled wine (three bottles of Trader Joe’s $3 cabernet; an orange and a lemon, each halved and juiced then the hulls tossed in the pot; a goodly portion of whatever whole warm spices I could find in the cabinet: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, star anise, cardamom, coriander, peppercorns; a bit of maple syrup–everything added to a pot, brought to a simmer, then turned off and left to steep for two hours or so. I can confirm that it’s delicious even if you never get around to reheating it and everyone drinks it at room temperature.)
  • Prosecco with pomegranate

I didn’t take many pictures that night, but I did manage one of the table early on.


We even managed to take a break from topping off drinks and making everyone play Cards Against Humanity long enough to get the tree decorated. I love it so much, I can’t believe I’ve never bothered to get one before. It’s so pretty and it smells incredible, and especially considering that we just bought the cheapest full-size bodega tree we could find within walking distance, I think it looks amazing.

Familarity breeds both contempt and kale salad.

There’s a certain kind of restaurant to which I refer, somewhat derisively, as Brooklyn Restaurant Model #17. There are a lot of them, and they all seem to be following a very strict set of guidelines. The space will be furnished with salvaged wood, antique mirrors, and industrial light fixtures. They’ll have an extensive local beer list with at least one very dry cider. The (local! seasonal! farm-driven!) menu will feature, always, a fancy burger and…a kale salad.

Truth be told, I happen to love all of those elements and dishes. If I could, my whole home and weekly dinner plan (which I would both totally have AND adhere to in this weird fantasy world) would look like Brooklyn Restaurant Model #17. But I live in a Victorian house that was last renovated in the 80s and doesn’t lend itself to industrial decor, and I believe, like Laurie Colwin, that burgers are strictly restaurant food. However, I can and do make a big kale salad once a week or so and, after some trial and error, have finally landed on my favorite formula and process. It started with this recipe, but I think it’s morphed enough that I can call it my own. There’s a fair amount of prep work, especially if one doesn’t have leftovers to mine, but it goes pretty quickly, especially when there’s a good audiobook on my phone and I’m kind of mood where mindless chopping is more of a meditation than a hassle. Even starting totally from scratch, I can get home at 6:30 and be eating this by 7:30 or so. It’s a matter of getting the stuff that takes longer going immediately, then doing the rest of the work while the things that need to cook do.

Less of a recipe than a process, making this salad looks something like this:
Walk in the door, put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Turn the oven on to 450. Take off coat. Take two (thick-cut) or three (normal) slices of bacon out of the freezer. Set them aside to thaw. Peel a large sweet potato and chop into 1/2″ dice. When the water boils, salt it and add 1/2 c. or so of barley. Put a spoonful of coconut oil in a baking pan and stick it in the oven for a few minutes to melt. While it’s in there, slice a small onion (not essential, but there are enough sweet elements in the salad that I like to tone the sweet potato down a little bit). Put the sweet potato and onion slices into the baking pan, stir to coat with the oil, and stick the pan in the oven. Remember to stir once in a while. Wash a bunch of lacinato kale, derib, and cut into thin ribbons by stacking a few leaves, rolling them up, and slicing thinly. Put the raw kale in a bowl.

Sprinkle the kale with a bit of coarse salt and drizzle with olive oil, then work it with your hands for a few minutes. The action will soften the leaves and release a fair bit of the moisture inside them; the after photo below looks like an oily mess, but there was only a teaspoon or so of oil added. This step is optional, of course, but it helps break down the fibers and make the kale easier to chew. It still has a lot of texture, it’s just much less like lawn trimmings.

Chop an apple into 1/2″ dice and add to the bowl. Toast 1/2 c. or so of nuts in a dry skillet; I’m partial to hazelnuts, but I’ve used walnuts, almonds, and pecans too and they’re all good. Chop them and add the the bowl. Cut the bacon into lardons and cook in the same skillet. At this point, the barley is probably done, so drain that and rinse with cool water; add to the bowl. The sweet potatoes are likely browned and toothsome–in they go! For the dressing, I pour off all but about two tablespoons of the bacon grease, then add some cider vinegar and maple syrup to what’s left in the pan. Stir to combine and pull up any bits at the bottom of the pan, then pour over the bowl and stir to combine. Garnish with the crispy bacon bits, some crumbled cheese (here it’s ricotta salata), and pomegranate seeds if you have some.

This has rapidly become one of my favorite things to make and serve. It’s a riot of flavors and textures and nutrients. It’s endlessly and easily customizable for when one is or finds oneself feeding vegetarians, the allergy ridden, or the gluten free. It’s easy to do all or part of the prep ahead of time. I like it with red lentil soup (typically this one) when we have company for lunch, but it’s also great with a beer on the couch after the kind of day where making dinner seems like it’ll soothe the day’s wounds instead of poking at them. And it almost always yields enough for leftovers.

Four weeks later…

First off, the wedding was fabulously fun and went off without a hitch (except, obviously, in the getting ____ed sense of the word). I’m waiting for the professional photos to come in before I do a full write-up, but this is one of my favorites of the few people have sent me so far.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe for something I’ve made at least once a week this summer. It was inspired by a dish that I get at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, which they call String Beans Szechuan Style (with Pork), but using Thai and Korean ingredients too for a sort of pan-Asian deliciousness. Also, I almost always make it with beef, since ground pork is not all that easy to come by in a neighborhood with large populations of both Muslims and Orthodox Jews, but it’s delicious either way.

The idea is to cook up a small amount of heavily seasoned meat, then to let the meat flavor a panful of green beans. I’m pretty sure Joe’s fries their beans, but a quick, high-heat saute works just as well to retain some crunch. The Korean BBQ sauce is something I first had when I was still writing for Serious Eats, and I interviewed the sisters who make it. They’re lovely, the sauces are delicious, and I like to keep a bottle or two onhand for this kind of dish or for quick stir frys. You can still make this without it; the dish will just be less saucy at the end. It turns out spicy and savory and a bit tangy from the lime and rice vinegar, and it’s completely addicting.

Green Beans with Spicy Beef

1/2 lb. ground beef
zest and juice of one lime
1/4 c. We Rub You Korean BBQ sauce, spicy or regular
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp.-1 tbsp. Siracha or other hot sauce, to taste
1/2 c. water
1 lb. green beans, trimmed and chopped to 1 1/2″ pieces

Brown the ground beef over medium-high heat, breaking the meat into small pieces as it cooks. When it’s browned, drain off the grease if necessary. Add the remaining ingredients except green beans and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium and let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced by about a third. Add the beans and let cook, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes or until beans have achieved your preferred level of doneness. Serve over rice.

My New 52: Canned Sardines

I’ve been wanting to increase the amount of fish that we eat since it’s good for you and Rob and I both like it, but the sustainability issue is one that really bothers me. Ideally, I’d like to limit my part in fishing species out of existence. Sardines are generally regarded as a good choice for the health of both humans and the planet, and the coop I belong to has a good selection of inexpensive, ethically caught canned fish, but I’d never had them and wasn’t really sure what to do with them.

Then I was flipping through the Saltie cookbook recently and saw the recipe for the Captain’s Daughter: sardines, hard-boiled eggs, and salsa verde. Aha! I thought. That looks like an interesting combination. I had some homemade bread (from this Laurie Colwin recipes), plenty of eggs ready to boil, and the makings of a batch of chimichurri sauce, which really deserves its own post. I think it might be my favorite condiment of all time.

For my version (the Captain’s Redheaded Stepdaughter, perhaps), I toasted two slices of bread for each of us, buttered them lightly (I think cream cheese would be nice here, but I didn’t have any), mashed a boneless sardine filet on each slice, topped it with some hardboiled egg slices, and drizzled chimichurri sauce over the top. With a salad on the side, it was a flavorful, reasonably virtuous dinner that I’ll be happy to repeat. As for the sardines themselves, much like anchovies, I found them a little intense on their own, but delicious in concert with other strong flavors. I’m looking forward to playing around with them more.

My New 52: Hot Fudge Sauce

Hot fudge sauce always seemed sort of like not a pain, exactly, but like more effort than you needed for chocolate sauce. When you could just melt some chocolate and cream together and have a perfect ganache for any occasion, why would you bother with all of those extra ingredients and I never had corn syrup on hand and there’s timed boiling?

There are brownies in there too.

Well, I get it. It’s denser and sort of chewy and it’s so shiny. It’s not going to replace ganache in my kitchen for the most part, but it’s definitely earned its place.