Monday, February 27, 2012

crispy leeks - the return!

In an effort to bring more crispy leeks into our lives, I've been googling around for other recipes that use 'em (because we're not going to eat steak every week nor am I going to eat fried leeks for lunch, tempting though those ideas are).

I tried this egg salad Saturday; it was good, but not great, and definitely not the best use of the salty deliciousness of the leeks. I wish I'd fried some up to top the mac & cheese earlier in the week - I think they'd have been a yummy addition. Also, Victor made hamburgers the other day - next time we have those, I'm definitely going to try topping the burgers with fried leeks. They're a great pairing for beef, and could top most casseroles. Or maybe I'll just give in to temptation and make some as a snack.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Friendship & Herby Bread

A friend brought this amazing dill-y bread to a potluck we hosted many years ago. I basically couldn't stop eating it, even though conceptually it sounded a little strange: dill, honey, and yogurt bread? It was delicious; when I asked, it turned out to be from Molly Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Later (I think after hearing me pine away after the cookbook, mostly because I wanted to make this recipe), another friend got me the book as a gift. I generally make this bread when I have some leftover dill, and every time I do, I think about my friends and feel very loved. It is supremely comforting.

Yogurt & Herb Bread
from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

  • butter, oil, or oil+flour spray for the pan
  • 1 C white flour
  • 1 C whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C firm yogurt
  • 5 Tbs butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 C sugar, honey, or agave nectar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh dill, minced (or 2 tsp dry)
  • 1 - 3 tsp dried herbs (oregano, thyme, marjoram, and basil are all good bets)
Grease a medium-sized loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350F.

Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Put the butter in a medium bowl and melt it in the microwave (on high, stirring after every 15 sec). Beat the yogurt and sweetener into the melted butter. Beat in the eggs. Mix in the herbs.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet mixture into it. Mix until completely blended.

Spread into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a knife inserted all the way into the center comes out clean. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack for at least 20 min before slicing.
yield: 1 medium-sized loaf

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Not-Entirely-Unhealthy Mac & Cheese

I came across this recipe recently and immediately bookmarked it. I don't have a favorite mac & cheese recipe, mostly because I haven't found anything that's relatively healthy but still tastes good. (I recently picked up a box of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and it was frakkin' delicious... but not at all something I can justify eating on a regular basis.) This caught my eye because it wasn't crazy complicated, it used whole wheat pasta, AND it wasn't full of butter or cream.

We had some excellent whole wheat elbow pasta I'd been meaning to use in something, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I ended up doctoring the recipe pretty substantially, and I'm still not sure that it was quite right, but it's a keeper nonetheless. (Also, Victor LOVED it.) I think it would be good topped with fried or caramelized alliums (leeks and onions would both definitely work, and maybe garlic).

Not-Entirely-Unhealthy Mac & Cheese
inspired by this recipe

  • 2 pieces hearty whole wheat bread
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 C whole wheat pasta
  • 3 C whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1-2 C water (if needed)
  • 1 C shredded cheddar (I used Dubliner)
  • 1 C frozen peas
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan, optional
Make bread crumbs: toast the bread, then tear into pieces and pulse in a mini-prep until broken into small crumbs. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, add the crumbs and 1/2 tsp salt. Toast, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Add the pasta, milk, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and mustard to an oven-safe medium sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the pasta is tender. If the milk thickens too much before the pasta is cooked, add some water. When the pasta is tender but still slightly al dente (for whole wheat pasta, I find that this point is where it still tastes slightly bitter but has softened - it will finish cooking in the oven), remove from heat and stir in the cheddar.

After the cheddar has melted, stir in the peas. Top with the bread crumbs and the Parmesan, if using. Bake (uncovered) for 10 minutes.
serves 4

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bittman's Pad Thai

I've never made a homemade pad thai that made me as happy as a truly good restaurant one, so every time I make it, I "audition" a different recipe. I started out with this recipe from Serious Eats, but the amount of liquid in the sauce gave me pause. A quick look at the comments confirmed that something was off there, and suggested the pad thai recipe on Bittman's own site instead. I loved the idea of the shredded cabbage from the first one, so I constructed a mash-up of the two, basically following Bittman's original recipe but adding the shredded cabbage from the Serious Eats one in step three (with the bean sprouts... which I had forgotten to buy). I also omitted the proteins, because I wasn't in the mood for tofu and didn't have any shrimp. Pad thai's all about the noodles for me, anyway.

It was... okay. Better than a made-with-ketchup restaurant version by far, but also far short of awesomeness. I think part of the problem was that, at basically the last minute after everything was done cooking, I panicked about the lack of any "sour" flavor and threw in some lime juice. The extra liquid + cooking time may have been a mistake - after all, I *could* just have added a squirt or two of lime juice at the table. Even after the lime juice, I ended up adding some rice vinegar while I was eating, because it just didn't have the right "tang". Victor and I both thought it needed more sweetness as well. In general, I felt like it was missing that perfect balance of sweet-sour-salty that pretty much defines Thai food for me.

The search continues.

Monday, February 20, 2012

multi-ethnic stew in search of a good home

On Serious Eats, this dish is listed as a braise, but when I was making it I didn't feel like it actually was braised at all. It ended up thick and curry-like, though with sun-dried tomatoes, coconut milk, and cilantro, I'm not quite sure what kind of curry it would be. The original recipe also called for spinach, but our farmer's market just has kale this time of year. No matter - it was delicious and hearty, and we love kale!

Chickpea & Kale Coconut Curry
adapted from Serious Eats
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger, from a 3-inch piece
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)
  • 1 dried hot red pepper or dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large bunch kale, cleaned, center ribs either removed or diced
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • dash of lime juice (optional)
  • Cilantro leaves, to garnish
  • Toasted unsweetened coconut, to garnish

In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, lemon zest, and red pepper, if using. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes. (Don't worry if some of the spice mixture sticks to the bottom of the pan!)

Turn the heat to high and add the chickpeas, toasting for 3-4 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent burning.

Add the kale, lemon juice, coconut milk, salt, and ground ginger. Stir vigorously to deglaze the pan. Turn down the heat to low and simmer until the kale is very soft and the chickpeas are tender, 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and lime juice as needed (the lime juice will "brighten" the dish if necessary).
serves two very generously

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Startlingly Good"

No idea when I made this, but Victor's review was that it was a "startlingly good" combination:
Fettuccine with Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries, and Caramelized Onions

Valentine's Day 2012

We don't usually do anything especially elaborate for Valentine's Day, but often we make a slightly more elegant dinner for ourselves. For some reason, Kahlua-Cinnamon Brownies have become part of that tradition (looking back at the orange binder, I see we first made them for Valentine's Day in 2003!).

This year, we made steaks following this technique and topped with crispy baby leeks. We also had a potato-and-parsnip mash.

We followed the above recipes as written; for the leeks, Victor cleaned and cut them into 2" segments. After browning the steaks, I tossed in the leeks and sprinkled them with salt (use more than seems strictly necessary - they should taste "salty" at the end, since they're the only additional seasoning for the steaks). I stirred them just enough to keep them from blackening (although they did get blistered) and kept going 'til they were crispy. Then remove from heat and set aside while the steaks cook.

We steamed the potato and parsnip chunks and Victor mashed them once they were very tender (and added some cream, butter, and salt/pepper).

Neither of us is particularly skilled with making steaks; I think this recipe will be our go-to one from now on. They were perfectly cooked (to about 135F) in 40 minutes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicken and Fennel Potpie

I hinted at this recipe once before; I'm not sure why I waited so long to make it again, as it is delicious.

Although the original recipe has a specific crust, it's pretty similar to the one we learned in our pie-making class a few years ago. Since we're both comfortable making that recipe, that's what we used (although we used bacon drippings in place of lard, both because it's what we had and because, well, why the hell not?). (Kate's basic recipe can be found many places on the web; she discusses both the recipe and a bit of the technique here.)

Basically any kind of poultry could work here; although it's nice to have the ham, too, it's definitely not necessary. Leftovers make sense, but when I made this last I didn't have leftover chicken, so I poached a large breast in a mix of broth and white wine and used that. The amounts are very much approximate, too.

Chicken & Fennel Pot Pie
adapted from As American As Apple Pie
  • pie dough (enough for one crust - probably half a recipe, since most make enough for both a top & bottom crust, and this pie just has the top crust)
  • 1 potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 fennel, cut into small cubes
  • 1 carrot, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 C peas (optional)
  • 1 1/4 C chicken stock (approximately)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp anise seeds
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour (I always use Wondra for making gravies/sauces)
  • 1 C cream or half-and-half
  • 1 Tbsp Pernod (optional)
  • 3/4 C ham, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 C cooked chicken or turkey, cut or shredded into bite-sized pieces
  • dash of Tabasco
  • salt & freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 400F.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Melt the butter and add the onion and anise; cook 5 min. Whisk in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, about 2 min. Whisk in the 1 C warm broth and keep whisking until smooth. Heat to boiling; simmer 4 minutes. Whisk in the cream and continue cooking until thickened, 5-6 min longer. Remove from heat; stir in Pernod if using. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, about 10 min.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add potatoes, and cook until tender (about 8 min). Drain and stir into gravy.

Combine fennel and broth in a medium saucepan and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until tender (about 4 min). Drain, but reserve the broth. (Add more broth, if needed, to make 1 C.) Stir into gravy.

Stir in the chicken and ham and add a dash of Tabasco and a little salt & pepper, to taste. Transfer to a large buttered pie plate (9" or 10").

Roll out the dough and transfer it to cover the pie. Trim and flute the edges. Brush with the milk. Cut a vent (or vents) in the center of the pie.

Bake until golden brown, about 25 min. Let stand a few minutes before serving.
serves 6

Friday, February 17, 2012

Creamy Parsnip & Leek Soup

The last couple of weeks have really kicked my ass. Nothing terrible, just a lot of little things that added up to a whole lot of stress and not much cooking. I had the best intentions, cooking-wise, but often didn't feel up to making much of anything. Nonetheless, there were a couple of pretty wonderful meals in there, and this week has been MUCH better (though slow with the posting).

I continue to like Cook This Now, enough so that I bought a copy (I had it on loan from the library).

When I made this soup, I had a little jar with the pan juices from roasting a chicken - I used the (thick) layer of schmaltz that had solidified on top instead of the butter in the recipe and poured the rest into the soup with the chicken stock (... which was otherwise just water with "Better than Bouillon"). This isn't something I expect most people to just have sitting around in their fridges (I don't usually have chicken drippings, either), but it speaks to the kind of kitchen economy I try to practice: I didn't know what I'd do with the drippings, but since we ended up not wanting to make gravy with them, I also knew I didn't want to just toss them. And the next day, when I made this soup, I was grateful that I hadn't.

Creamy Parsnip and Leek Soup
adapted from Cook This Now

  • 4 Tbsp butter or what-have-you (I would have used bacon drippings here if I hadn't had the schmaltz; no reason not to use oil if you'd like to keep the recipe vegan)
  • 4 large leeks, trimmed of tough/dark green parts, carefully cleaned and sliced (the tough leaves are great to save for stock, though!)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, more or less
  • freshly ground black peper, to taste
  • 4 large celery stalks, sliced, with leaves if possible (keep the leaves separate)
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • bay leaf
  • parsley stems (totally optional)
  • generous 1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 1 lb potatoes, peeled and chunked
  • 1 qt chicken or veggie stock
  • 2 C water
  • a bit of fresh lemon juice (if needed for brightness)
Melt fat in your soup pot over medium heat. Saute leeks with salt & a little pepper until soft, about 5 min. Add celery and saute another 5 min or so until leeks are getting golden and celery is shiny.

Tie thyme, bay leaf, celery leaves and parsley stems (whichever combination of these things you have) together and add to the pot with the broth, water, parsnips, and potatoes. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to a simmer. Cook until veggies are nice and soft (20-45 min).

Discard the herb bundle and puree the soup, adding water if it's too thick, lemon juice if the flavor is flat, and more salt and/or pepper to taste.
serves 6

We had the soup with garlicky croutons as (more or less) per the recipe's suggestion:
  • thick slices hearty bread (we used whole wheat)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • drizzle of olive oil
Toast the bread. Meanwhile, cut a little cap off the end of the garlic. When the bread is toasted, rub it vigorously with the cut end of the garlic (which will kind of shred into the bread). Drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

Bubbie's Sponge Cake

Direct quote of my grandmother's email to me:

Bubbie's Sponge Cake  (Bubbie is Yiddish for grandma):  6 eggs separated    1/2 cup cold water   1 1/2 C sugar   1 tsp vanilla  1 1/2 C Cake flour ( 1 C of cake flour=7/8 C all purpose flour sifted)   1/4 t salt   1 t baking powder   3/4 t cream of tartar

         Separate eggs. Beat yolks 10 minutes or until thick and lemon colored.  Add water slowly and continue beating then add vanilla and sugar slowly while beating.  By hand fold in dry ingredients  (except Cream of Tartar) into yolk mixture.  Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff but not dry.  Fold into yolk mixture. Bake at 325 1 hour in an ungreased angel cake pan.  Test with a toothpick.  Cake should be nicely tan and the toothpick dry.  Invert pan on the neck of a empty wine or soda bottle.   Carefully remove cake when the pan is cool to the touch.  Use a table knife to very gently loosen  around the perimeter and around the center cone.  If your pan comes in 2 sections loosen around the perimeter and separate the pan from the interior section.  Use the table knife to loosen the bottom of the cake and around the cone. It should slide out. Let me know how it comes out.  Bake your cake when there are no guests in the house. Banging a door or the oven door can cause a cake to collapse.  I seldom baked this cake when the kids were little because they just did not understand the dynamics.  Have fun.  Much love,  Grandma  (Bubbie)