Sunday, June 30, 2013

something for everyone

My pesca-vegan friends are back! And this time, I was way-prepared for them. Menu planned for days.

However, I'm getting rusty at throwing dinner parties. I forgot a lot of stuff - how many oranges make up a cup of diced, the fact that I'll need another one to juice, thawing the spinach, soaking the pumpkin seeds...

I mean, it all worked out. There's still a lot of orange flavor between the two oranges I did buy. It's not like pesto has to be warm - just put the food processor to work on that frozen spinach. And I can't really tell if soaking the pumpkin seeds for the additional two hours more than I had time to would have had a huge effect on the dressing, but my blender works fairly well, and the dressing was smooth enough for my taste.

Oh, and I forgot to add peanuts to the jicama slaw. I was actually disappointed about that one - I had the peanuts, I thought they'd be a really nice, savory addition, thought about measuring them out and setting them next to the slaw so I wouldn't forget, and then forgot anyway. 

I loved all of this, despite my shortcomings. It was a nice mix of refreshing in the tacos, rich in the avocado dressing for the kale salad (did I just call a kale salad rich?), and utterly comforting and substantial in the risotto. This is the kind of food I wish I had time to make every day. Although, this all makes a lot of food, so for the leftovers, it's quite worth the time spent. 

And for my next non-pesca-vegan party trick, I think I'll put some mozzarella in that risotto for arancini when I get back from vacation. Fun for all!

Scallop Tacos with Jicama Slaw
slightly adapted from Leite's Culinaria
serves 4-6

For the jicama slaw:
1 c. finely diced jicama
1 c. diced orange segments
juice of 1/2 navel orange
1/2 c. chopped red onion
1/4 c. minced cilantro
2 fresh cayenne peppers, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste

For the scallops:
12 oz. bay scallops
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine the jicama, orange segments and juice, red onion, cilantro and peppers. Toss thoroughly, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Pat the scallops dry, and season with salt and pepper. Immediately, add the scallops and cook, without moving, until lightly browned. Add to the jicama slaw mixture. Serve immediately with your favorite tortillas.

Spinach-Pepita Pesto Risotto
inspired by A Sweet and Savory Life
serves 6-8

1/2 c. diced red onion
5 T. olive oil, divided
2 c. arborio rice
6 c. vegetable stock
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 c. basil leaves

1. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the onion, and cook until translucent. Add the rice, and cook, stirring often, until lightly toasted.

2. Add 1 c. of stock, stirring constantly until all the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding stock, 1 c. at a time, stirring and waiting until liquid is absorbed before adding more. Cook until al dente, adding more stock, if necessary. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the spinach, pumpkin seeds and basil. Process until pumpkin seeds are finely chopped. With the machine running, drizzle in the remaining 4 T. olive oil, until the consistency of the pesto is to your liking. 

4. Scoop out 1 c. of pesto and add to the risotto. Stir to thoroughly combine. You should have about another cup of pesto remaining - lucky you!

Vegan Mexican Caesar Salad
adapted from Venturing Vegan
makes 3 c. dressing

For the dressing:
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pit removed
1/2 c. fresh cilantro leaves
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 c. cold water
1 c. raw pumpkin seeds, soaked for 2 hours
1 t. salt
1 T. chopped red onion
2 garlic cloves 
1 T. coconut oil
1/4 t. ground black pepper
1 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. chili powder

3-4 c. shredded kale

1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth and creamy. 

2. Dress the kale to taste. Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

not what i expected

The only thing this dish had going for it was how pretty it was. Which is sad because I was super-excited about having some spicy poached snapper. It would have been better-served to call it hot ceviche, which would have turned me off the recipe completely, and I wouldn't have wasted the time on it.

Well, I guess that's a little harsh. But I did have my doubts fairly immediately as I made my lime-based marinade. "Wait, won't this "cook" the fish already? What's the point of poaching it again?"

But while I was cooking and reducing the poaching the liquid, the house smelled amazing, and I forgot my initial lime-y concern. The garlic, the caramelizing tomato paste - it all made me feel like I could be getting a nice tomato-y stew out of this dish.

But in the end, none of that was any match for the lime, the fish was a tad chewy, and all I could taste was the lime. And absolutely none of the spice. Probably not even worth trying to tweak, but I'm glad I ended up finding red snapper fillets at Seafood City after initially putting in an order for an entire snapper to be cleaned for me to fillet (or more likely, cut into steaks) on my own at home.

I did like the couscous I made to go with it, though. The original recipe called for boiled beets and carrots to be served alongside the fish, but I needed some sort of carb anyway, so I just cut up pre-steamed beets and warmed them with some sauteed some green beans and mushrooms, and tossed all the vegetables in with couscous. Good hot as a dinner side, or cold for lunch the next day.

Spicy Poached Snapper
adapted from Saveur
serves 2-4

1 lb. red snapper fillets
1 c. diced red onion
1/2 c. fresh lime juice
1/2 t. mustard powder
1 sprig thyme
1 fresh cayenne pepper, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 T. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. tomato paste

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the red onion, lime juice, mustard, thyme, pepper, salt and pepper. Add the fish and turn to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

2. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, and cook until it begins to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add 1 c. water and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until almost evaporated, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Remove the fish from the marinade, and set aside. Add the marinade to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, 4-5 minutes. Add the fish and an additional 3/4 c. water to the skillet, and cover. Cook the fish, turning once, until it is cooked through, about 8-12 minutes. Serve over couscous.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

sticky sweet

I wish I had the chutzpah (and the appropriate cleaver) to whack these spareribs into the 2-inch pieces the original recipe calls for, but my spareribs came whole, and I was too chicken to do more than separate them.

But wasn't it someone fabulous like Julia Child who said something like don't admit your kitchen mistakes - rather, rename the title of the dish and make it look like you intended it all along. You know, like the over-charred broiler accident becomes a "blackened" dish. These aren't unwieldy spareribs from the kitchen of a cook with no knife skills - they're pork lollipops!

And honestly, lollipops wouldn't be a misnomer in that these ribs are delightfully sticky sweet. The soy brings a lovely savory note to the flavor profile, but I might want to highlight it even more by reducing the amount of white sugar the next time and leaving the honey alone to go into delicious battle with the soy. Plain white rice, and a simple side of shredded kale and sliced snow peas stir-fried in sesame oil were all that was needed to balance the powerful flavor of the pork - anything more intense would only create chaos on your tastebuds.

Honey Soy Braised Ribs
slightly adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon
serves 4

3 lbs. pork spare ribs
2-inch piece of ginger, half of it thinly sliced and the other half minced
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 c. soy sauce
1 1/2 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. sugar
3 T. honey
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes

1. Place the ribs in a large pot, and cover with water. Add the ginger slices, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 30 minutes.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, soy sauce, white wine, sugar, honey and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

3. Drain and rinse the rib pieces. Clean out the pot, and return the ribs to it. Whisk the braising liquid to loosen up the honey, and pour over the ribs.

4. Bring the mixture to a boiil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover, and simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender. Serve immediately over rice, with some of the braising liquid spooned over.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

the warmth of the sun

Of all the vegetables we planted this spring, I'd say the only real success so far has been our kale. Sure, the bugs attacked them like crazy, but with a little maintenance, those leaves are still going bonkers.

To be fair, the tomatoes are doing good, too - however, they're only ripening at a rate of about a dozen cherry tomatoes at a time. Hardly enough to do anything interesting for 2-3 people. The ones that are ripening, though, are the true definition of dirt candy - we'll just have to plant more next year.

But the snap peas and green beans are pathetic, the broccoli sprouted some lovely, but useless, yellow flowers, and the herb garden of last year is but a distant memory.

I am now becoming hopeful about our Japanese eggplant, though. We put in 5, and they're slowly but surely leaning over and yielding gorgeous purple fruit. (It's a fruit, right? Because of the seeds? No?)

These patties are delightful. I wouldn't say they were overwhelmingly eggplant-y - it's really more of a binding agent, at least with the ratio of other vegetables that I used. The whole thing was such a great personification (food-ification?) of summer - I mean, the eggplants were still warm from the sun! I had a couple extra smoked sardines, so I mashed them up and added them. They gave the patties a slight crab cake flavor, but nothing too overwhelming - still fresh and summery.

We made them into little burgers with mini pitas for buns and nubbins of leftover cheese from various gatherings. Brie and blue cheese are great additions.

Roasted Eggplant Patties
adapted from Proud Italian Cook
makes 10 patties

6 Japanese eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 5 c. or 1 lb. cubed)
2 T. olive oil
1 T. granulated garlic
salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. diced red onion
1 c. diced orange bell pepper
1 c. frozen corn
2 T. chopped parsley
2 eggs
2 oz. smoked sardines, drained (optional)
1/2 c. panko

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss the eggplant with olive oil, granulated garlic and salt and pepper, to taste. Roast in the oven until lightly golden, about 20-25 minutes, tossing once.

2. Meanwhile, combine the onion, bell pepper, corn and parsley in a large bowl. When the eggplant is done, add to the bowl, and thoroughly combine.

3. In a separate bowl (or in one of your measuring cups to save dish-washing time), lightly beat the eggs, and add to the eggplant mixture. If using, mash the sardines in the egg bowl/cup, and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir well to combine.

4. Pour the panko onto a large plate. Pack a 1/3-cup measure with the eggplant mixture to help you form even patties. Carefully dredge the patties in the panko, and transfer to a Silpat-lined baking sheet.

5. Reduce the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the patties until golden-brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool and serve over salad greens, or between mini pita for eggplant burgers.

Friday, June 21, 2013

all in my grill

I've had a mental block against posting this Southern Curry-Basted Grilled Chicken that I made almost a week ago. I can't decide why. Was it just too embarrassingly easy that I didn't want to share? Or did I want to just keep this my party trick, to whip out and amaze friends, only coyly winking that it was some secret family recipe to be kept in my pocket and mine alone.

But that was a fleeting moment. I hate the idea of having secret family recipes. I mean, get over yourself. Someone else knowing how to make a dish does not detract from your ability to make it. And at the end of the day, the more hungry people get fed by your delicious food, the better, right?

Anyway, I have a fear of heights, so I should probably get off the soapbox. Back to delicious, flavorful, entirely-too-easy chicken. Some of that ease can be attributed to one of the better birthday gifts Matty's ever gotten - a gas grill from his parents. Honestly, we probably wouldn't have fired up a charcoal grill just for the two of us, I would probably have used my grill pan, and I wouldn't have been so glowing about this review.

Actually, I'm sure this would be just as good on that grill pan, roasted in the oven, anything you have that gets chicken up to the edible temperature of 165 degrees. Make this immediately! And throw that leftover curry sauce (you'll have lots of extra) on anything that moves.

Southern Curry-Basted Grilled Chicken
slightly adapted from She Simmers
serves 4

7 large dried guajillo peppers
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. ground turmeric
1 small shallot, peeled
6 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
2 1/2 c. coconut milk, divided
2 t. salt, divided
2/3 c. packed brown sugar
2 T. coconut oil
2 T. tamarind paste

1. De-seed the peppers, and tear into large chunks. Place them in a small bowl, cover with warm water, and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the peppers, ginger, garlic, ground coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and shallow. Process until smooth.

3. Whisk together 1/2 c. coconut milk with half of the pepper mixture and 1 t. salt. Add the chicken, tossing to coat, and let marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes up to overnight.

4. When you're ready to grill, put the remaining pepper mixture into a medium pot along with the coconut oil. Set it over medium heat, and fry until the paste becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 c. coconut milk, remaining 1 t. salt, sugar and tamarind paste. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 3 minutes. Split the sauce in half - use one portion to baste the chicken as it's grilling, and reserve the other portion to serve at the table.

5. Grill the chicken until done, basting twice. Serve immediately over steamed rice. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

goin' by the book

I'm pretty much a person who plays by the rules. I follow instructions extremely well. And for the most part, that means I manage to make really good meals and desserts.

Sometimes, when I think I'm smarter than people who do this for a living, I make little tweaks. Here are the things that can go wrong:

- I use the broiler instead of roasting in the oven, and the crust nearly burns, while the salmon is really rare. It was actually perfect for me, but I had to direct our house guest to the thinnest sections that were better done.

Well, I guess that's all that really went "wrong." I thought it was too fussy to make stuffing, and I wasn't sure I wanted what seemed to be two very similar textures - cooked fish and stuffing - to be that close to each other. The crust idea was actually kind of genius - now there's appealing texture contrast! Next time, I'll just have to bake it (my guess is below in the instructions), but I'll definitely be repeating this. I loved how the pine nuts added this savory-sweet flavor to the rich salmon. I might even increase the crust-to-fish ratio - maybe salmon fingers completely dredged in this mixture and baked on a wire rack for crispness.

The salad was a super easy, deliciously summer-y side - just raw chopped broccoli, quartered Kumato tomatoes, and a couple sprinkles of feta. I can easily see it being dinner by itself once it gets good and hot this summer.

Pine Nut-Crusted Salmon
adapted from Leite's Culinaria
serves 8

1 slice of bread of your choice - I used whole wheat
4 T. pine nuts
1 garlic clove
5 sprigs dill
2 T. salted butter, cold
1 T. olive oil
2 lemons, thinly sliced
2 1 1/2-lb. salmon fillets
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the bread, pine nuts, garlic and dill. Pulse until get end up with large breadcrumbs. Add the butter, and process until you have a mixture that looks a bit like wet sand.

3. Grease a foil-lined baking sheet with the olive oil. Spread the lemon slices on the baking sheet, and top with the salmon. Salt and pepper, to taste. Divide the breadcrumbs between the salmon fillets, and pat to adhere.

4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden, and the salmon is done to your liking. If the crust is getting too dark, adjust the temperature.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the next day

You know, I've never really subscribed to the notion that anything is really "better the next day." You know those recipe instructions - braise this today, refrigerate it overnight, and it'll be "better the next day." Bake this cake, you can eat it now, but it'll be "better the next day."

Who on earth is going to wait to eat cake the next day? Not anyone in this house. But I have to say, this Fig-Cornmeal Cake truly was better the next day. I made it for an impromptu game watch/dinner party Sunday night, waited to take a photo in the daylight (yet another "better the next day" moment), and then had a sliver for a snack last night, and was finally moved to post.

Our house came with a fig tree, and last year, before we moved in, we missed the first round of ripe figs (happening now-ish). Sadly, I don't remember the figs being a bit dry in the middle last year as they are this year. Definitely nothing to be eaten out of hand, but cooking them in a port-honey syrup before baking them into a honey cake seemed like a good use for them. And because they weren't as cute as Dorie Greenspan's figs (or anyone else's on the Internet who has made this cake), I folded them right into the batter rather than use them as a topping.

The fig flavor shines through brightly, perhaps even more so because they were better-distributed throughout the batter, and there's no strange texture issue from the dryness of my fresh figs. The cake is delicate, even with the addition of cornmeal.

All this talk might inspire to grab another slice for breakfast this morning, but the way things are going, I will never know if the cake is better in two days.

Fig-Cornmeal Cake
slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
makes one 9-inch cake

3/4 c. ruby port
1 c. honey, divided
2 thin slices of lemon
20 fresh figs, quartered
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
2 t. baking powder
1/4 c. sugar
12 T. salted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the port, 1/2 c. of honey and lemon slices. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the honey. Lower the heat, add the figs, cover the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, until the figs are soft, but not falling apart. Drain, and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch springform pan with foil, and grease lightly.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal and baking powder.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and butter. With the paddle attachment, beat until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Pour in the remaining 1/2 c. honey and the vanilla extract, and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until they are just incorporated. Fold in the figs.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, before running a blunt knife around the edges and releasing the edges of the pan. Cool the cake to slightly warm or to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

my peanut butter

I've been in search of a perfect peanut dressing for ages, and with this recipe, I've finally found it. It's definitely not made with natural peanut butter folks - get Jif-y with it.

And with all the kale we have in the garden (and possibly adding more since our broccoli did absolutely nothing but make cute yellow flowers), I will be eating this every chance I get. Endlessly adaptable to whatever cooked proteins/noodles you have leftover, or leave it out entirely for some pure veggie goodness.

Kale-Steak Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
adapted from Food52
serves 4

For the dressing:
3 T. smooth peanut butter
3 T. warm water
3 T. mirin
1 T. honey
1 T. soy sauce
1/2 T. sesame oil
sriracha, to taste (I used 4 T.)

For the salad:
4 c. shredded lacinato kale
2 c. cooked rice noodles
12 oz. cooked steak, cubed
1/2 c. packed mint leaves, chopped finely
1/2 c. peanuts

1. In a small bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, toss together all of the salad ingredients. Toss 1/4 c. of the dressing with the salad, and add more to taste. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Apparently, I have a thing for decorating pudding pies with chocolate chips. I just love how deco it is! And honestly, I couldn't bear the thought of dirtying up the stand mixer for a whipped cream topping, not knowing whether it would even survive the trek across town (almost to the ocean!) for our friends Naomi + Kevin's baby shower.

Whereas the last pudding pie was not exactly what I was looking for, this one may be the only chocolate pudding pie I ever make for the rest of my life. Now, let's be clear - it's not some ridiculously decadent chocolate filling that will make you cry, but is so rich you can only have one bite. This kind of tastes like a Jell-O pudding cup in the most delicious way possible. There's a pleasant little snap from using cornstarch as the thickening agent. Another upside: you don't potentially contaminate pregnant ladies with a custard that uses raw egg yolks.

It's so light, but still dreamy. You won't be able to stop eating it. I'm going to have to make a bigger batch of pudding next time - some for pie crust, some just for my spoon.

Chocolate Pudding Pie
from Smitten Kitchen
makes one 9-inch pie

For the filling:
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/3 c. sugar
3 T. dark cocoa powder
1/4 t. salt
3 c. milk
4 oz. 72% dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 t. vanilla extract

1. Whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, for two minutes. Remove from the heat, and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

2. Fill your favorite, pre-baked crust with the filling. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours. Garnish with your favorite toppings.

making love out of nothing at all

The best group breakfast party trick of all time is quiche. How else do you feed at least 4 people breakfast with just 3 eggs?

Now, I would never have used phyllo for a crust - nothing terrifies me more - but I had some left over, and was emboldened by the success of some mini spanakopita I made for a friend's birthday barbecue, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I'm not a huge fan of Pam, either, but spritzing some between each phyllo sheet is so much easier and faster than brushing with olive oil.

The edges are divine. I thought the bottom was just like any other crust, but the crispy, almost overbaked, edges above the egg custard were such a delicate contrast to the substantial filling.

Kale Quiche Lorraine with Phyllo Crust
makes one 9-inch quiche

6 oz. bacon, cut into lardons
2 c. kale, shredded
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
8 phyllo sheets, thawed
Pam cooking spray

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until golden-brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Remove all but 1 T. of the bacon grease. Add the kale, and saute until wilted. Set aside.

3. Working quickly with the phyllo sheets, layer 8 sheets in a 9-inch pie pan at 45-degree angles, spraying each layer with Pam before moving on to the next. Add the bacon and kale to the pie plate.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Pour the custard over the fillings, and slightly crumple the edges over the top of the custard. Bake until the custard is mostly set, about 35-40 minutes. Tent the edges with foil, if necessary, to prevent overbrowning. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

sweet sunshine

Summer, thank goodness you're here. Thank you for the struggling, but productive, basil. Thank you for the ridiculous oregano situation. Thank you for those purple flowers on the thyme. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the sage you've given me - I think that's more of a fall flavor - but, thank you. And most of all, thank you for the first 18 Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes that taste just like sweet sunshine.

It was almost painful how easy this dinner was to throw together. Matty made the pasta, I collected the fruits of our garden, and then everything just got thrown together to blissful perfection. The only thing I would change for next time is to add more tomatoes and more herbs - the amounts below reflect the new amounts I think would make for a more balanced dish. But even with half of the amount in tonight's dish, it was just nice to be able to appreciate the pops of brightness and sweetness between the tangles of tender pasta and smoky, barely-melted cheese. More, please, summer.

Fresh Herb Spaghetti
inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
serves 4

1 t. fennel seeds
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
2 T. chopped fresh oregano
2 T. chopped fresh thyme
4 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
4 T. olive oil
1 lb. angel hair pasta
4 oz. smoked mozzarella

1. In a small pan, toast the fennel seeds until they start to pop.

2. Meanwhile, combine the herbs, tomatoes and olive oil, and toss to coat. Set aside.

3. Cook the pasta to al dente. Drain, and thoroughly toss with the marinated herbs and mozzarella to coat. Serve immediately.