Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Pecan Pancakes

More high-protein, (relatively) low-calorie pancakes! Ever since I figured out how to make pancakes with egg whites, I rarely make the traditional kind. These are moist, filling and honestly, I prefer them over the classic, flour-based pancake!

These are a very slight variation on my most recent banana pancakes. I replaced the bananas with a pretty-much-equal amount of pumpkin puree and amped up the spices. It's a great way to make a dent in the pumpkin pie spice lurking in the back of your spice drawer!

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Pecan Pancakes
Adapted from my gluten-free banana pancakes.
I used liquid egg whites (not egg substitute), but fresh egg whites will work too (1 large egg white should measure 2 Tbs plus 2 tsp, so you need a lot to get to 3/4 cup). It's true that baking powder is double-acting, but you get significantly better results if you use the batter immediately after adding the baking powder (let it rest too long, and you miss out on the first chemical reaction and "rise").

Serves 2; Makes about 10 small (4-inch) pancakes

1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free if necessary) (40 g)
15 grams unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup egg whites
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (160 g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon (scant) ground cloves
2 to 4 tbs (approx.) buttermilk or regular milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Real maple syrup for serving

Add oats, coconut, egg whites, pumpkin puree, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, salt and cloves and blend on high power until combined. Add enough of the buttermilk to thin the batter; you should have a thick, but easily pourable consistency.

Preheat a skillet to medium heat and mist with cooking spray. About a minute before you're ready to start cooking, add baking powder to blender and blend until combined. Using about 3 tablespoons batter for each pancake (I just use a 1/4 cup measuring scoop and don't fill it all the way), add to pan and sprinkle with pecans. Cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Adjust heat up or down slightly as necessary. Serve with maple syrup.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The "Baked" Brownie, aka My All-Time Favorite Brownies

I've made some great brownie recipes in recent years. Some are on this blog and some aren't. This one is NOT, and I've probably baked it more times than any other recipe. So. Finally. I give you my absolute favorite brownie. It's from the book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by the owners of a wildly popular bakery in Brooklyn.

This recipe is wildly popular too. Pretty much anyone with a food blog has tried it. I'll tell you, though, it lives up to the hype. It's so, so good. So dense and fudgy, so packed with chocolate, so satisfying. The original recipe does not include any add-ins, but I love chocolate chips in my brownies, so there they are. I've also used peanut butter chips, which are pretty insane too.

If I feel like making the effort, I sometimes quick-cool the brownies in an ice bath. You can eat them sooner this way, but it also does some other good things, which I talk about in the recipe. If you like the decidedly fudgy brownie style and you want an ultimate chocolate fix, this is for you!

The "Baked" Brownie aka My Favorite Brownies
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

For the dark chocolate, I use Valrhona 71% Cacao that I buy at Trader Joe's. For the chips, I use Ghirardelli bittersweet. Quick-cooling the brownies (a trick from author and pastry chef, Alice Medrich) in an ice bath is optional, but I really like it (the brownies are great either way though). You're less likely to have over done edges, and I think it helps create that fudgy, yet light, texture that makes these so good. I've also baked them in a glass Pyrex dish and skipped the ice bath, which works fine too (Never put a hot glass dish in ice water, or it could break!).

Makes one 9 x 13" dish


1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (150 g)
2 tbsp dark or Dutch unsweetened cocoa powder (12 g)
1 tsp flaky sea salt
11 oz dark chocolate (around 71%)
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (300 g)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (110 g)
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli bittersweet), optional


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch light-colored metal baking pan or glass baking dish with nonstick foil, leaving a few inches of overhang on the long sides. 

Add dark chocolate, butter and espresso powder to a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally until completely melted. Add both sugars and whisk for about 10 seconds. Remove from heat and continue whisking until completely combined; set aside for about 5 minutes to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder and salt; set aside. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Whisk in the vanilla. Do not over mix at this stage or brownies may be cakey.

Add the chocolate to the flour mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 34 to 36 minutes, or until top is slightly puffed and glossy and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

About 5 minutes before brownies finish baking fill a large shallow container (a roasting pan works really well) about halfway up with ice water. You need to be able to fit the baking pan inside without getting the brownies wet, so the water should come about halfway up the baking pan, which will float. This is easier than it sounds; you'll see what I mean. As soon as the brownies are done, place them in the ice water. This will stop the cooking faster so the edges don't get over done; it cools the brownies a lot faster so you can eat them sooner. Cool in the ice water for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you not doing the ice bath, cool on a wire rack. You can refrigerate the cooled brownies for a few hours before slicing to get a nice, clean cut. When completely cool, cut into squares. The brownies freeze well; defrost at room temperature.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Creamy Corn Muffins with Cheddar and Scallions

These are some tasty corn muffins. They're moist and pleasantly dense thanks to an ingredient list that includes creamed corn and sour cream. These two items also create a great tangy flavor. Sharp cheddar and scallions are thrown in for flavor. Sprinkling some of the cheese on top of the batter makes for a crisp and cheesy muffin crown.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine, circa 2007. I mentioned them on my blog way back then, but didn't make them a second time until last weekend. Wow, I'm really glad I did. They are quite low in calories for all the deliciousness, and the extras reheated perfectly in a low oven. You'll definitely eat two of them, and you'll want to eat more. They made a great side dish for smoked pulled pork. If you're looking for something a little more interesting than the traditional corn bread, this is definitely it!

Creamy Corn Muffins with Cheddar and Scallions
Freeze any leftovers. Defrost them at room temperature, then reheat in a 250 to 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Makes 12

2/3 cup white whole wheat flour (85 g)
½ cup yellow cornmeal (65 g)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 (8.75-ounce) can cream-style corn
½ cup reduced fat sour cream
Dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce
¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 ounces)
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg. Add corn, sour cream and cayenne and stir to combine. Stir in a scant ½ cup of the cheese and the scallions. Add to flour mixture and stir until just moistened.

Spray a standard muffin tin with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin slots, filling about 2/3 full. Sprinkle remaining cheese over muffins. Bake in the center of the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool in tin for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Soft, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with Toffee and Coconut

On Sunday, I had the urge to make cookies. It felt like I hadn't had any homemade dessert in my life for a while, so I dug through all the recipes I've saved online and decided on these. Spoiler alert: they're so yummy!

Although I love oatmeal cookies, this isn't what I usually go for. Believe it or not, I've never baked anything with toffee bits before (is that weird?). These cookies are chewy around the edges thanks to the addition of shortening and a bit of cornstarch. The cornstarch is a great trick (I've used it before with chocolate chip cookies) for creating a soft texture--it has the same effect as using instant pudding mix in your cookie recipe (like these, for example). The centers are soft because of not baking them too long (we need a better term than "underbaking"). The cinnamon and dark brown sugar add tons of flavor.

Finally, I'll end with a warning: if you love eating cookie dough, you'll be powerless against these. Oatmeal cookie dough is the finest kind, and these are just the cream of the crop.

Soft, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with Toffee and Coconut
Adapted from Hershey's and Taste and Tell
I replaced 1 tablespoon of the flour with cornstarch, which helps create that soft chewy texture. The shortening and coconut also keep the cookies soft, so you can't lose with this lineup of ingredients. 

Makes 55 cookies

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, minus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening, at room temperature
2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups quick cooking rolled oats
1 cup (packed) shredded sweetened coconut
1 (8 ounce) bag toffee baking bits (like Heath brand) with milk chocolate (1 1/3 cups)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. Beat the butter, shortening and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until combined. Add oats and beat until combined, then repeat with coconut and toffee bits. Refrigerate at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop slightly rounded tablespoon-sized balls of dough and place on baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart (I used insulated baking sheets and did 16 per batch). Bake in the center of the oven until edges are set (centers will still look moist), 8 to 10 minutes (bake 9 to 11 minutes if you want the centers set). Cool on baking sheets for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough. I recommend freezing any cookies you don't eat on the day of baking. Defrost at room temperature.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Healthy Monte Cristo Sandwiches

Here's something I didn't really "get" until recently: The classic Monte Cristo is a double decker sandwich made with layers of ham, turkey, swiss cheese and usually jam. It's battered and deep fried and served with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. Oh my goodness. That's really the way it's supposed to be. Of course, you don't need to go the killer sandwich route to get a very similar delicious experience.

There are just as many "less-elaborate" recipe versions of this sandwich hanging around the internet. Some actually don't resemble a traditional Monte Cristo at all, but plenty are great, calling for pan-frying (so much easier than attempting to submerge a double layer sandwich in batter and hot oil). The recipe I put together treats the bread like French toast to create a crisp exterior and soft interior.

You could fry it butter, more like a grilled cheese sandwich, but I keep it pretty healthy. I also don't bother with two types of meat because I absolutely love the ham and gruyere combination. The addition of some slightly chunky, high-quality jam takes that combo to another level, where sweet and savory are joined in harmony. So simple, so good and I don't even need powdered sugar.

Monte Cristo
This is perfect with leftover holiday ham, if you're the type to buy a half or whole spiral cut ham just so you can cook with the leftovers. Of course, it doesn't have to be the holidays to do this. Avoid basic deli ham unless you know it's really good. 

Makes 2 sandwiches

Dijon mustard
Fruit jam, such as blackberry or raspberry
4 slices Aunt Annie’s Potato Sandwich Bread
4 to 6 oz baked ham
2 oz (approx.) Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced

2 large eggs
3 tbsp milk or half and half
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray

1) To make each sandwich, spread one slice bread with Dijon and another slice with jam. Top Dijon side with ham and Gruyere; cover with jam side.

2) In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and black pepper until combined.

3) Preheat one or two heavy skillets on medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Dip each sandwich one side at a time (try not to coat inside of the sandwiches) in the egg mixture, allowing bread to absorb to absorb egg for a brief moment. Transfer to skillet and cook until bread is toasted and golden brown and cheese is melted, turning once. Cover the skillet with a lid to help the cheese melt and adjust heat as necessary to prevent over browning; the second side will cook more quickly. Cut sandwiches in half on the diagonal and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bourbon Pecan Pie

This is the pecan pie I made for my husband's birthday. First time ever making pecan pie, and I will never try it any other way. I used the famous Cook's Illustrated vodka crust, which is even more wonderful than I remember (I first used it in this blueberry pie). Just the perfect crisp-tender texture with enough salt to counteract the problem I usually have with pie crust: blandness.

The filling is adapted from both Cookie Madness and The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Two authoritative sources if there ever were. The filling contains 2 tablespoons of bourbon. I didn't think this was much of anything, but you can taste, and it is good. I also made sure to include a higher than usual amount of sea salt. No one will call this pie "overly sweet" or "cloying," the two criticisms most often throw at this dessert. It is adult. It is addictive.

Of course, I just said I'd never change, but tell me about your ultimate pecan pie. What key ingredients make the difference for you? I LOVE comparing recipes!

Bourbon Pecan Pie
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Cookie Madness and The Gift of Southern Cooking.
With a hit of bourbon and delicious sea salt, this pie is far from too-sweet and cloying. You can taste the bourbon, which is a good thing. I called for fleur de sel because a dessert this special (and high-calorie) deserves the absolute best. Use any salt you like enough to taste on its own.

Vodka Pie Crust:

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 ¼ oz)
¼ plus 1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4” slices
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
2 tbsp cold vodka
1 to 2 tbsp cold water

Process ¾ cup of the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until cobined, about 2 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough starts to come together in uneven clumps (should look like cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but all flour should be coated), about 10 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add remaining flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pules. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and 1 tbsp of the water over flour mixture. With a rubber spatula, mix with a folding motion, pressing down on dough until dough comes together and feels slightly tacky. If dough seems dry, add as much of the remaining water as needed to achieve desired consistency (I used a scant 1 ½ tbsp). Flatten into a 4” disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

On a generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface, roll dough into a 12” circle, about 1/8” thick. Roll loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate. Press dough into the bottom and side of plate to fit. Trim overhanging dough to about 1/2” beyond lip of plate. Fold overhand under itself so edge is flush with plate. Flute the dough with your fingers (don't worry if it's not perfect!). Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Pecan Pie Filling:

1 ½ cups chopped raw pecans
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Scant ¼ tsp fleur de sel or sea salt, plus ¼ tsp
3 large eggs
¾ cup plus 3 tbsp light Karo syrup
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp bourbon (I used Jim Beam)
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add pecans and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add butter and scant ¼ tsp of the salt and “stir-fry” pecans until butter melts and barely starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Crack eggs into a large bowl and whisk to break up. Add Karo syrup, brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla and remaining ¼ tsp fleur de sel and whisk until combined. Stir in pecan/butter mixture and pour into chilled, unbaked crust. Bake in the center of the oven until top is golden brown and puffed, but still slightly jiggly in the center, 45 to 54 minutes (mine took 52 minutes). Cool completely on a rack at room temperature, about 4 hours. Pie is perfect on the day it is baked and very, very good after being refrigerated overnight; serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Spaghetti with Kale, Sardines, Avocado and Lemon-Caper Sauce

A little while back, I put together a quick pan sauce with onions, garlic, capers and lemon juice. Since then, I've been using it in different ways, as I can't get enough of the savory, lemon-spiked flavor. With some leftover kale, creamy avocado and ultra-nutritious sardines, I came up with a pasta dish that just rocks.

It's kind of a "rule" not to use cheese with seafood pastas. I've broken that rule before, but with this dish, cheese didn't seem to fit. Instead, I topped it with breadcrumbs made crisp and toasty in a little olive oil. This is an addictive, healthy bowl of food. Heaven with a dry rosé if that floats your  boat!

Spaghetti with Sardines, Kale, Avocado and Lemon-Caper Sauce
This recipe is a bit fussy because it requires multiple elements that are combined at the very end to make one incredibly tasty bowl of pasta. So. If all this sounds daunting, make the kale ahead of time. You can also make a double batch of kale one night and reserve half to make this dish.

Serves 2, easily doubled

For kale:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small bunch (or a little less) Tuscan kale, ribbed and chopped
2 cloves garlic
Red pepper flakes

For sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup good-tasting chicken broth
1 tbsp drained capers
Juice of half a lemon or taste

For breadcrumbs:
2 tsp olive oil
¼ cup whole wheat panko, or any breadcrumbs

3 tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
1 1/2 to 2 tins sardines packed in water, bones removed if desired
4 to 5 oz whole wheat spaghetti
½ small avocado (or to taste), chopped
lemon wedges for serving

1) For the kale, steam or boil until tender. Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-low heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute. Add kale and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing to blend, for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. May be done up to 2 days ahead.

2) Make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add onion, season with salt (sparingly) and black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced by about one third. Add capers and lemon juice, simmer for 30 seconds and transfer to a small bowl.

3) Wipe out the skillet and make the breadcrumbs: Heat the oil on medium heat. Add panko, season sparingly with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until panko turns golden brown and smells toasted, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

4) Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti to al dente. About 1 minute before draining, dip a glass measuring cup into the pasta water and scoop out approximately ½ cup of the water; set aside.

5) To serve, toss spaghetti, kale, sauce, sundried tomatoes, sardines and avocado together (you can do this in the saucepan you used to cook the pasta, or in the individual serving bowls you are using). Moisten with reserved pasta water if desired. Sprinkle each serving with breadcrumbs and serve with lemon wedges.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Agave Bran Muffins with Raisins

I like healthy muffins, but I don't want them to taste like healthy muffins. Luckily, it's fairly easy to find good-for-you recipes that aren't rubbery or dry. For this agave-sweetened bran version, I tweaked a good, classic recipe from the blog, The Moveable Feast. It's quick to make, even though the mixing directions are slightly unorthodox; the crumb is light and soft, and the flavor is sweet but virtuous.

The original recipe calls for honey, but I used agave because it's estimated to be about 25% sweeter than honey or sugar for the same number of calories. The idea was to keep calories under control, while keeping the muffin sweet enough to actually be enjoyable (Cut sugar too much, and you'll just be sad, believe me.). You can certainly use honey, but I would add an extra 2 tbsp to be on the safe side.

Another thing to note is that this bran muffin contains no molasses, a typical ingredient in classic or traditional versions. Before I came to the recipe here, I made a similar recipe with molasses (not blackstrap--bake with that stuff at your peril), and discovered it was not the flavor I was looking for. The funny thing is that I love molasses cookies. Then I realized that the bran muffin I wanted to duplicate was the one they used to sell at Dunkin' Donuts (it's not on their website; tragically discontinued, I guess), which was plenty sweet and tasted a lot more of honey than molasses.

At least that's what I remember. The last time I ate one was probably 10 years ago! That's fine because I'm happier with my homemade version. Tell me, are you a bran muffin fan or could you not care less?

Agave Bran Muffins with Raisins
Adapted from The Moveable Feast 
These healthy muffins have about 200 calories and 5 g of fiber each, yet they’re moist, soft and pleasantly sweet.

Makes 11 (You could easily make them a bit smaller and get 12.)

1 cup wheat bran (68 g)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 large egg
1/3 cup safflower or canola oil
1/2 cup agave nectar (175 g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour (120 g)
1 tsp  baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup raisins (130 g)
Turbinado or other coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with 11 paper liners and mist the surface of the tin with cooking spray to prevent muffin tops from sticking (optional).

In a medium bowl, stir together the bran, buttermilk and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, oil, agave and vanilla until combined. Add to bran mixture and stir until combined; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to bran mixture and stir until no white streaks remain, taking care not to overmix. Fold in the raisins.

Add to muffin tin, filling cups nearly to the top. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until edges are golden and a toothpick comes out with a crumb or two (not wet batter, obviously), or comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. These freeze great; defrost at room temp.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Saag Paneer

I got this recipe from a friend after she made it for a dinner party. It was amazing. After trying it myself at home, I think it's one of the best Indian dishes I've ever made. The spices are dead-on, the perfect balance between earthy (cumin, coriander) and warm (cinnamon, cardamom). If you've loved this dish in Indian restaurants, but never made it on your own, this is the recipe to try.

It's originally from Food Network chef, Aarti Sequira. I actually adapted it to make it simpler. I have access to good Indian grocery stores where they sell Indian brands of frozen spinach that differ from what we're used to. Inside one bag, you get multiple frozen chunks that look like big ice cubes. It is chopped much finer than American brands, so it's practically a puree. The original recipe is cleverly designed for American grocery stores, so it includes instructions for running chopped spinach through a food processor. With the spinach from the Indian store, I eliminated this step.

The recipe even includes instructions for making your own paneer, which my friend did. She said it was easy, and the cheese definitely had great texture and flavor. I used store bought. I've also included my recipe for absolutely perfect steamed basmati rice. It took years, but I finally hit on the right method for grains that are never to soft and perfectly separated. I love this meal, so I hope you'll give it a try!

Saag Paneer
Aarti Sequira via Food Network 

If you have frozen chopped spinach from a regular grocery store, defrost in the microwave, squeeze out a bit of the water and puree in a food processor; this approximates the texture of Indian spinach. You can use lowfat or regular paneer or click on the original recipe link and make your own. If you don't have ghee, use oil. You can just as easily use chicken or lamb instead of the paneer, both of which you'll find on Indian restaurant menus. I rewrite recipes that aren't my own using my own words about 99% of the time; in fact, I usually alter them beyond recognition. But here, I borrowed some language from the original source (especially in the 2nd paragraph) because I thought it was perfectly stated. 

Serves 4 as a main dish

10 oz paneer, cut into 1” cubes
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
Indian chile powder or cayenne to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Safflower oil
24 oz frozen chopped spinach from the Indian store, defrosted and drained (see head note)
1 1/2 medium white onions, finely chopped
1 (3-inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (about 3 tbsp)
6 cloves garlic, minced
Red chile flakes to taste
1/4 tsp (generous) cinnamon
1/8 tsp (generous) cloves
1/8 tsp (generous)cardamom 
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup (approx) homemade buttermilk or plain whole milk yogurt

In a large bowl, toss the paneer, turmeric, chile powder, pinch of salt and about 1 tsp safflower oil. Set aside.

Add 1 tbsp ghee to the to a large skillet and heat on medium. Add the onions. Now here's the important part: saute the mixture until it's evenly toffee-coloured, which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Don't skip this step - this is the foundation of the dish! If you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. After the onions have cooked for 12 to 15 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chile flakes. Continue cooking until soft and toffee-colored, 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. If you haven't already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, until the raw scent of the spices cook out, and it all smells a bit more melodious, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the spinach and stir well, incorporating the spiced onion mixture into the spinach. Add a little salt and cook until most of the water evaporates, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and rest for 2 to 3 minutes. 
Add the buttermilk or yogurt to the spinach, a little at a time to keep it from curdling. 

While spinach cooks, add about 1 tbsp safflower oil to a heavy skillet and heat on medium high. Add paneer and cook until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Add to spinach. If necessary, reheat on low, stirring frequently, just until everything is warmed through. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Perfect Steamed Basmati Rice
Julie O'Hara

Serves 4

Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add 1 cup white basmati rice and cook, stirring frequently until opaque and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups water and a scant 1/4 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until rice is tender and water is absorbed, 15 to 17 minutes. Keep the pan covered and set aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wild Rice and Chorizo Pilaf

I put this together one night as a side dish for grilled whole fish and asparagus. It turned out to be so delicious that it was the highlight of the meal. It's very easy, but of course wild rice takes over an hour to cook so you have to factor that into your plan.

The work is all done at the very beginning: first brown some dried Spanish chorizo along with onion and garlic; then toast the rice in the pan for a few minutes (this builds flavor, and I swear it helps keep the grains separated rather than clumpy); and finally add the liquid and leave it alone. As with any steamed rice, that 10 minutes of resting time is important. It lets the grains absorb any remaining moisture so there's no clumping when you fluff them up.

The chorizo, by the way, must be the Spanish type, which is cured so it's ready to eat as is. The Mexican type is a fresh sausage which is totally raw. As you might have guessed, these two aren't interchangeable. Not every supermarket out there will carry Spanish chorizo, but it's worth seeking out. I get mine from a butcher. You generally use only a small amount because it packs so much flavor. I've had a piece of it in the freezer for months so I can hack off as much as I need for dishes like this one!

Wild Rice and Chorizo Pilaf
You must use Spanish chorizo, which is cured, rather than Mexican chorizo which is raw.

Serves 2 and may be doubled

Cooking spray
5 to 6-inch piece Spanish chorizo, diced
1/4 cup diced red onion
2/3 cups wild rice blend (such as Lundberg)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/8 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (such as Kitchen Basics)
Chopped parsley and a tiny squeeze of lemon for serving if desired

Coat a small saucepan with cooking spray and heat on medium. Add chorizo and cook, stirring frequently until it releases some of its juices, 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add rice, black pepper, garlic and oregano and cook, stirring very frequently until rice is opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, raise heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer, covered, until rice is cooked through, 60 to 65 minutes (or follow package directions). Check rice at 55 minutes and add more stock if needed. Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley and a small amount of lemon juice if using.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blackberry Scones with Lemon and Poppy Seeds

I rarely make scones with fresh berries. Actually, that's not true. I'm fairly certain that I've never made a scone with fresh berries. First off, I'll tell you that I love berries. My second favorite fruit (after figs) is berries. It can be raspberries, blackberries, blueberries--whichever is the freshest, the sweetest, and on sale.

I also love scones, but I tend to favor more "dessert-like" recipes, even though I never go overboard on the amount of butter and rarely use high-fat dairy, like cream. My absolute favorite scones are Cinnamon Chip. There's also Maple-Pecan and Pistachio. Those last two have icing.

Once I finally combined fresh berries and scones, the results were awesome. They were sweet enough; the dough was incredibly tender; and the firm blackberries stayed intact, creating juicy chunks of berry. One caveat, however, is that fresh berries add a ton of liquid to your batter. It might look very dry, but once the berries are mixed in, you'll be fine.

I tried this recipe with fresh raspberries, and they were far too soft. They broke up, so no chunks of fruit; and they turned my dough into a moist blob almost instantly thanks to their high water content. The firmer blackerries, on the other hand, held up fine (if by chance, yours are very, very soft, they may not work so well). I think blueberries would also be great. Just make sure they're sweet and tasty.

Blackberry Scones with Lemon and Poppy Seeds
I use thick, homemade buttermilk (here's the recipe I use). Store-bought should be fine, but don't use milk mixed with vinegar or lemon juice; it's too thin. I think this recipe would work well with blueberries, but raspberries are too soft and will break up. Wash your berries a couple hours, or even the night, before so they're completely dry. The poppy seeds are a nice touch, but feel free to skip them.

Makes 12 medium scones

2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (300 grams)
6 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tsp lemon or vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp poppy seeds
8 Tbs very cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
2 cups fresh blackberries, dried well and halved
2 tbsp (approx.) turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, extract and lemon zest; whisk in poppy seeds.

Add butter to flour mixture and incorporate with a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal with some larger, shaggy chunks. Add wet ingredients and stir just until most of the dry ingredients are moist (dough will be quite dry as berries add moisture). Gently stir in blackberries, working them in with floured hands if needed. If dough is still very dry, you can drizzle in some buttermilk; if it’s too wet, knead in more flour.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and quickly knead together. Divide in half and pat each half into a disk about 3/4 to 1-inch-thick. Cut each disk into 6 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Margarita with Easy Homemade Sour Mix

The Margarita is one of my favorite cocktails. Unfortunately, it's one of those drinks that can be absolutely tragic to order at a bar. You can end up with a beverage that's any number of these: sickly sweet, watery, unbalanced, as big as your head. Just like it's tropical friend, Pina Colada, a lot of injustice has been done to the Margarita.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some bars (often legitimate cocktail bars at the higher end of the classy spectrum) make Margaritas with a lot of tequila, fresh lime juice and a mere touch of simple syrup or sour mix. So you're pretty much drinking a tequila martini. This is supposed to be more authentic, but I like some sweetness in my Margaritas. So, this recipe is a nice balance between the too syrupy and too austere versions of the drink.

And, of course, you can make it more or less sweet according to your taste. That's why I like making Margaritas at home. My husband came up with a really great and easy homemade sour mix that we use for all sorts of cocktails. You do not have to make simple syrup or heat anything at all. He just combines agave syrup with fresh lemon and lime juice in a jar and shakes it up. If you don't want to use agave, you can substitute simple syrup.

I uploaded these pictures before I realized that Cinco de Mayo is actually right around the corner. Total coincidence. Happy drinking!

Perfect Margarita with Sour Mix
The sour mix recipe is below. You need a good, juicy lime; an old, shriveled one will mess up the proportions.

Makes 1

1 lime
kosher salt if desired
1 1/2 oz tequila
1 oz sour mix or to taste
1/2 oz triple sec

Cut the lime in half crosswise, then cut a wedge off one of the halves. Cut a slit in the flesh of the lime wedge and run it around the rim of the glass. Dip in salt if desired (avoid getting too much salt on the inner rim so it doesn't "season" your drink). Stick the lime wedge on the glass for garnish.

Add tequila, sour mix, triple sec and all the juice you can squeeze out of the remaining lime halves to a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice and shake well. Taste and correct the proportions to suit your tastes. Strain into glass. You can serve on the rocks if you want. I like it straight up, then I add one or two ice cubes if it gets warm as I'm drinking it.

Easy Agave Sour Mix
Agave is about 25% sweeter than sugar, so we add extra citrus, rather than using an equal amount. These quantities needn't be exact, so feel free to use more or less citrus in your mix. Look for light-colored agave nectar since it is generally milder in flavor.

1/2 cup light-colored agave nectar
5 tbsp fresh lime juice
5 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake vigorously until combined. Keeps in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie Bars

This is a easy, fast dessert that looks more complicated than it is. Great, right? It's from The Daily Cookie, a book I raved about a little while back. If you're a chocolate-and-peanut butter fiend, you'll love this. The base is ground up Oreos and butter pressed to form a firm crust. The middle layer is creamy peanut butter and cream cheese, and the topping is the simplest chocolate ganache. It's a lot like those utterly decadent peanut butter mousse pies that seem to call to me from countless web pages, but in the form of satisfying little bars that come in around 100 calories (so good ahead, eat two!).

These bars are made in a square pan, but I could see using a round cake pan and cutting them into thin slices if you want a more elegant presentation. Serve them on a plate next to some whipped cream. In bar form, they're easy to just pick up and eat out of hand. The filling is so tasty (obviously) that I'd consider doubling the amount for a thicker bar.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie Bars
Adapted from The Daily Cookie, 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life by Anna Ginsberg of Cookie Madness

Makes 24 small bars

12 Oreo (or similar) cookies
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

4 oz reduced fat cream cheese (neufchatel), softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar (55 g)
1/4 cup chunky or creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp 2% or whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream
3 oz semisweet chocolate, chips or a chopped bar

Line an 8-inch square pan with nonstick foil (or use regular foil and coat with flour-added baking spray). Process the cookies into fine crumbs using a food processor fitted with the metal blade. You should have 1 1/4 cups. Pour melted butter over crumbs and pulse a few times to combine. Transfer to prepared pan and press tightly to form an even layer. Freeze for 20 minutes to make a firm crust.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the cream cheese and confectioners' sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in peanut butter and milk. Spread over the frozen crust. Refrigerate for about 1 hour, or until peanut butter layer is firm.

Make the topping: In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and immediately add the chocolate. Let it sit for 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is melted and very smooth. If still very hot, cool up to 5 minutes. Spoon chocolate over the peanut butter layer and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until chocolate is set. Cut into 24 bars, or desired size.

Note: For 24 servings, 1 bar contains approximately 104 calories and 7 grams fat according to my calculations on

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Curried Lentil Soup with Ginger

I've posted two other red lentil soup recipes over the years, but I feel justified in adding a third. It's not that this one is wildly different from the others. Nor is it shockingly innovative. I just thought it turned out so well, that I wanted to write it down.

In a soup like this you can always tweak the spices and their amounts. The fresh ginger, however, was a key ingredient for me and using ground wouldn't be the same. I love over-stuffing a soup with vegetables, and this one packs carrots, tomatoes and spinach. Super-hearty and nutritious. I added sauteed shrimp to make this a one-bowl meal, but serve it any way you want. And don't forget the lime. Never underestimate the power of citrus to lift the flavor of legumes with a bracing zip!

Curried Red Lentil Soup with Ginger
You can serve this soup with a sandwich, as part of a meal, or as a main dish topped with sauteed shrimp. It's great any way. I kept the recipe instructions simple, short and sweet. This is a soup you can throw together any night of the week.

Serves 4

1 Tbs canola oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbs (approx.) curry powder
Indian chile powder or cayenne to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
1 1/4 cup red lentils
3 large carrots, sliced
14 oz can diced tomatoes
6 to 9 oz spinach leaves (optional)
1 juicy lime, plus wedges for serving if desired
Greek yogurt and sliced scallions for serving

Heat canola oil in Dutch oven or large pot on medium high. Add onion and saute until tender. Add ginger and spices and cook 2 minutes, stirring often. Add broth, 2 cups of the water and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add lentils and carrots and simmer, uncovered, until tender. Add additional water as needed if soup gets too thick. Add spinach leaves if using and simmer until wilted. Add the lime's juice and season to taste with salt, pepper and more chile powder if desired. Serve with yogurt and scallions.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Braised Flanken-Style Short Ribs

I've been watching Top Chef for years, but it's only during this past season that Tom Colicchio finally grew on me. I never doubted that he was a good chef, but I never really "liked" him until recently. So, when I was searching for a good short ribs recipe and came across this one he did for Food and Wine, I was excited to give it a try.

Spoiler alert: It's a great recipe! I had a feeling it would work out well just by reading it. There aren't a lot of ingredients and the steps are simple. You do have to start the dish the day before, but only so the meat and braising vegetables can soak overnight in a red wine bath.

I did skip the step of basting the cooked ribs in their liquid and broiling them in order to create a glaze. I was dubious and didn't want to toughen the meat. I also thought the delicious braising liquid was too thin to coat the ribs or caramelize well. I don't think anything was lost due to my choice not to broil. It just seemed too fussy. The recipe below reflects this change, and I'd definitely make it again the exact same way!

Tom Colicchio's Braised Short Ribs
Adapted from Food and Wine magazine
This recipe calls for flanken-style short ribs, which are cut across the bone. I think you could also use English-style, which are cut parallel to the bone, but the cooking time may vary slightly. Either way, either cut should come from the chuck where the ribs are meatier, rather than the plate of the animal. A fat separator is really nice for de-fatting the braising liquid. I have this one, and I use it all the time.

Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 lbs flanken-style short ribs, about 1" thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
3 celery ribs, sliced
3 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
1 bottle dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
4 thyme sprigs
3 cups chicken broth
Chopped parsley for garnish

  1. Heat half the oil in a large heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Add half the ribs to the skillet and cook, turning once, until browned and crusty, 8 to 12 minutes. Repeat with remaining oil and ribs. Transfer to a shallow baking dish in a single layer.
  2. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Add the wine and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the hot marinade over the ribs and let cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight, turning the ribs once.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°. Transfer the ribs and marinade to a large, enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover and cook in the lower third of the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender but not falling apart. Uncover and braise for 45 minutes longer, turning the ribs once or twice, until the sauce is reduced by about half and the meat is very tender.
  4. Transfer the meat to a clean shallow baking dish, discarding the bones as they fall off. Strain the sauce into a fat separator, discarding vegetables (or strain sauce into a heatproof measuring cup and skim off as much fat as possible). Pour de-fatted sauce over the meat; there should be about 2 cups. Serve with sauce, over polenta or mashed potatoes if desired. Garnish with parsley.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cornstarch

I couldn't resist trying this recipe after seeing it on a few food blogs and pinterest, which means you've probably seen it too! I wanted to post it to this little recipe journal of mine because it's a good, easy chocolate chip cookie that I would make again.

The interesting thing about the recipe is that it includes a little bit of cornstarch, and that ingredient is rumored to create a truly chewy texture. These cookies are chewy, but I'm uncertain whether or not that small amount of cornstarch is the precise reason. If you baked these too long, they would definitely not be chewy. But baked to right degree, the edges get slightly caramelized and the centers are tender and not cakey. They didn't spread a whole lot either, so fans of flat, crisp cookies should give this one a pass.

I might add more cornstarch next time I make these cookies. I think this recipe might stem from the idea of using cake flour or a combo of cake flour and all-purpose. This seems feasible because the standard method for making d.i.y. cake flour is to add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to 3/4 cup of AP. All that aside, I really liked these cookies!

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cornstarch
Adapted from Just Baked
If you're feeling adventurous, increase the amount of cornstarch to 2 tablespoons and subtract 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp flour. This would be similar to using 1 cup of cake flour and 1 cup of all-purpose (read the accompanying blog post for more info on this). If you don't have a scale, measure the flour with the spoon and sweep method.

Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour (250 grams)
2 tsp cornstarch (see head note)
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips or chunks (I like Ghirardelli semisweet)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light-colored and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined.

Add about half the flour  mixture and beat on lowest speed just until almost combined. Add remaining flour and repeat until just combined (batter is very thick). Stir in chips by hand. Cover dough and refrigerated at least 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I used nonstick insulated baking sheets, but regular light-colored baking sheets are fine too. If you have regular dark-colored baking sheets consider lowering oven temp to 325 to avoid over browning). Scoop rounded tablespoon-sized balls and place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven until edges are barely golden (centers will look under done, but they won't taste raw when cooled), 9 to 11 minutes. I did my batches for 11 minutes, but I think going slightly less would work well. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower and Shrimp Risotto with Spanish Flair

It's amazing how watching someone else perform a task can be so enlightening. In this case, I'm talking about the mundane kinds of tasks that you already know perfectly well how to do. This happens with cooking all the time. Whether we're in the kitchen with a friend or watching a chef on TV, there's always a little trick or tweak that can transform how you do things in your own kitchen.

This happened to me, and I didn't have to go far at all! My husband was making risotto and I was helping. We just came up with a mish-mash of ingredients that sounded delicious and put them together (that's the great thing about risotto: it never has to be the same dish twice). That day, we topped the rice with the world's greatest roasted cauliflower, shrimp sauteed with a little dry Sherry, Manchego cheese, parsley and pine nuts.

Anyway, the revelation came in how my husband actually prepared the risotto. He simmered the rice very low and slow and never stopped stirring. It was amazing the difference this made to the finished product! I love to make risotto and have definitely gotten cavalier about my technique over the years. It still turns out well, but his attention to detail made a big enough difference that I'll always put in the extra bit of care.

As I wrote in the head note below, I'm not including a full risotto how-to in the recipe. Instead, I included all the ingredients and technique tips along with full instructions for the (world's best) cauliflower and shrimp. This was one of the best meals I've eaten in a while. If you are a risotto lover, I hope this is helpful!

Roasted Cauliflower and Shrimp Risotto with Spanish Flair
This particular risotto is an assembly job. The components are cooked individually for incredible flavor and texture, then it's all put together before serving. It's easiest to do with 2 cooks in the kitchen. This recipe is informal--just one idea for a risotto dish that I am absolutely crazy about--and I haven't written detailed risotto steps, just the new tips I learned from my husband to make it great. Here's a step by step risotto recipe if you need a refresher on the process, or you can google to find loads of general recipes (but you  know how to do this, right?). Instructions for the cauliflower and shrimp follow separately. 

Serves 2 to 3

For risotto:
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large shallot, sliced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice

For my husband’s perfect risotto:
Cook very slowly, maintaining a low simmer and adding liquid only when the previous addition is nearly gone. You should not use any additional liquid and may have some leftover. Stir almost constantly. Risotto should be tender yet a bit firm to the bite in 28 to 30 minutes. Add black pepper and a pinch of salt to the shallot at the beginning if desired, then don’t season until risotto is nearly done (and remember the shrimp, cheese and cauliflower will add salt).

For cauliflower:
Preheat oven to 450 F. Break 1 head cauliflower into bite-size pieces and dry thoroughly if damp. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Drizzle cauliflower with 1 to 1 1/2 tbs olive oil; toss with curry powder (enough to add flavor and color, but not overwhelm), salt and black pepper. Roast in the lower 1/3 of the oven until bottom sides are deeply browned, 12 to 15 min; toss and roast until opposite sides are deeply browned and cauliflower is very tender, 7 to 10 minutes.

For shrimp:
8 to 10 medium shrimp per person, peeled and deveined
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
Red pepper flakes to taste
Dry Sherry
1/2 tbsp unsalted butter

Try to finish the shrimp at the same time the risotto is finished. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet on medium high and coat with cooking spray. Add shrimp and cook until opaque and not quite cooked through, turning once or twice, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, add garlic and a bit of red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add a splash of dry Sherry, enough to thinly film the skillet, and simmer until reduced by about half. Add 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, broken up into small chunks and stir just until melted. Remove from heat. You should have a small amount of intense, slightly creamy sauce.

To serve: Top risotto with shrimp and its sauce. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over shrimp (mostly) and rice (a little), or pass wedges at the table for personal taste. Add cauliflower and sprinkle liberally with grated Manchego cheese. Finish with toasted pine nuts and plenty of chopped fresh parsley.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Italian White Bean, Sausage and Kale Soup

I made this soup a while ago and wasn't going to post it because I had no good pictures. Soup is one of the less exciting types of dishes to photograph after all. But, I loved how this turned out and didn't want to forget how I made it, so here we are.

The key thing that makes this hearty, stew-like soup so noteworthy is dried beans. The texture and richness they add to the cooking liquid just wouldn't be present if canned beans were used (I have nothing against canned beans! If using them means the difference between cooking and not cooking, then by all means.).

The other things that make the recipe for me are miso paste and sun dried tomatoes.A scoop of light miso is my absolute favorite trick for adding savory depth to hearty greens and slow cooked dishes. The sun dried tomatoes are just tossed in at the end, but they add so much flavor, both sweet and acidic, that they're easily a key ingredient.

I don't know about you, but it's cold and wintry in Chicago today, so writing about soup in April doesn't seem so out of place to me!

Italian White Bean, Sausage and Kale Soup
This is a thick, satisfying soup with layers of Italian flavor and the richness you get from simmering dried beans. I love using light-colored miso to add depth to vegetable-heavy soups and braises like this one. If you don’t want to use it, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, which is also a good umami ingredient, instead. Note that miso adds salt to the soup, while tomato paste is generally very low in sodium.

Serves 6 to 8 as a main course

2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 to 3 carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon light miso (optional, see head note)
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water, plus more as needed
1 pound Great Northern or Cannellini beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
Nonstick cooking spray
3 fresh Italian turkey sausages (such as Jennie O brand)
14 ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
3/4 pound trimmed, chopped curly kale with ribs (1 to 1 1/4 pounds before trimming)
1/3 cup (approx.) chopped sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed or not)
Pecorino-Romano cheese, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot on medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in fennel, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes and continue cooking until lightly browned, about 5 minutes more. Push vegetables to the side and add garlic and miso. Cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the miso, 2 minutes.

Add broth and 4 cups water, cover and bring to a boil. Add beans, cover and simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beans are bulked up in size, but still slightly firm, about 1 1/2 hours. If liquid level gets too low, add water as needed; conversely, simmer the soup uncovered if you want some of the liquid to evaporate.

While beans simmer, cook the turkey sausages: Heat a medium skillet on medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Squeeze the sausages out of their casings into the skillet. Cook, crumbling meat with your spoon, until cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and lightly press with another paper towel to drain.

To the soup, add the tomatoes and about half the kale and cover just until wilted. Add remaining kale in this manner, as well as additional water if needed (soup should be thick, but you should still be able to stir it without too much muscle). Simmer until beans are tender, but not falling apart, and kale is very tender, 20 to 30 minutes (tender or Tuscan kale will cook faster). Reduce heat to low and stir in the turkey and sun-dried tomatoes just until heated through. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Shave cheese with a vegetable peeler over each bowl and serve with lemon wedges.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vegetable Borscht and Homemade Pierogi

I wanted to show off these beautiful pierogi I made. I made them extra large because that is how my grandmother made hers. I also browned them in some butter the way she did, but they're great simply boiled. I've never seen pierogi this size anywhere else; they're usually about the size of potstickers. I used a great recipe from the book, From a Polish Country House Kitchen. After making them, I bought the book, and it's quite awesome. The pierogi recipe is here on Serious Eats if you'd like to take a look.

The dough was very easy to work with. I also made the filling with peas, bacon and ricotta, which was really tasty. I couldn't leave well enough alone, however, so I also made a mashed potato and ricotta filling (plus salt and pepper and nothing else--delicious). I did all this one day when I was home by myself, and it was a ton of work. If I had my favorite kitchen helper with me, it would have been a lot easier. And of course, there's always a learning curve when you cook something for the first time.

I think I will try this again, but I'll stick to one type of filling and make smaller pierogi, as these take forever to boil. I also learned that it's important to roll the dough as thin as possible, so the pierogi aren't too doughy, for lack of a  better word.

I wanted to make borscht and pierogi on the same day, but fortunately I was wise enough to give up that dream. So I made this the next day, and it was so full of flavor and vegetal goodness! Easy too. I referred to the borscht recipe from that same cookbook as well as several others and came up with my own ideal version, which is below.

Vegetable Borscht
Pureeing some of the soup in a blender adds body and silkiness.

Serves 6 to 8 

2 tbsp canola or safflower oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, sliced
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried marjoram or oregano
Cayenne pepper to taste
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
4 or more cups water
4 to 6 beets, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
2 to 3 carrots, cut into 1/2” pieces
2 to 3 parsips, cut into 1/2” pieces
Greens from the beets or 1 bunch of Swiss chard, chopped; or a few handfuls of spinach leaves
1 to 2 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon, or to taste
Chopped fresh dill for serving
Greek yogurt or sour cream for serving
Hot sauce or sriracha for serving

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large pot on medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, caraway, fennel, thyme, marjoram and cayenne, and stir occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes; season lightly with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring well.

Add broth and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add beets, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. If there is not enough liquid to easily cover all the vegetables at any point, add additional water. Add carrots and simmer for 5 minutes. Add parsnips and simmer until all vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes more. Add greens and simmer just until tender (time will depend on the type of green you choose). Add vinegar and lemon juice. Check seasoning and add additional salt, pepper or cayenne as needed.

Ladle about one third of the soup into a blender and puree (carefully). Return to the pot and stir until heated through. Serve with a generous sprinkling of fresh dill and pass yogurt and hot sauce at the table.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chicken Vindaloo and Perfect Basmati Rice

I love Indian food, and there are a few dishes I like to cook. They're not necessarily authentic; or they're fairly authentic, just done to my preferences. This is my first time making vindaloo. It's traditionally spicy, but I wasn't in the mood for searing heat, so I just chopped up hot chiles to add at the end if I felt like it. You could also add them to the onion-based sauce mixture if you want heat to permeate the dish. I just stuck with some Indian chile powder (similar to cayenne) in the sauce blend.

The sauce itself is made mostly of onions sauteed with spices. It also gets a nice hit of vinegar for a little sourness. Potatoes also figure in and help make this version so hearty and comforting--yet still nice and healthy. Serve it over basmati rice. I finally figured out how to cook it perfectly, which is easier said than done (at least for me). Of course naan is never a bad idea either.

What's your favorite Indian dish, and do you make it at home?

Chicken Vindaloo
Chicken adapted from 
This dish tastes authentic, but lacks the rich, heavy quality so often found in restaurant cooking. It's flavorful and hearty, and is worth the effort to put together (You'll need at least 1 hour to marinate). I finally stumbled upon the perfect method for cooking basmati rice (it was years of trial and error), so I've included that in the recipe. The side dish is just frozen green beans steamed in the microwave then seared in a skillet with about half a can of diced tomatoes and a bunch of the spices used in the vindaloo.

Serves 4 to 5

5 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil, divided
3 large white onions, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Indian chile powder or cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste
Water for blending and simmering
3 (6 oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 cup water and more as needed
1 cup Basmati rice
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges, for serving
Thinly sliced Serrano or other hot chile, for serving

1. Heat 2 tbsp of the ghee in a Dutch oven or large pot on medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden brown, 7 to 9 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a blender. Add vinegar, coriander, cumin, garam masala, black pepper, turmeric, chile powder and 1/4 tsp of the salt, or salt to taste. Puree; if too thick to blend, slowly add water 1 tbsp at a time until you have a thick sauce.

2. Put chicken pieces in a large bowl. Add sauce and stir well. Refrigerate for 3 hours or as long as overnight; or rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and cook until tender but not falling apart, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and rinse and wipe out the saucepan.

4. Heat 1 tbsp of the ghee in the same medium saucepan on medium heat. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently until opaque and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 3/4 cups water and a scant 1/4 tsp of the salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until rice is tender and water is absorbed, 15 to 17 minutes. Keep the pan covered and set aside to rest for 10 minutes or more.

5. Heat 1 tbsp of the ghee in a large skillet on medium-high heat and add mustard seeds. When seeds start to pop, add the potatoes. Season lightly with salt and cook just until browned on most sides. Transfer to a bowl.

6. Heat remaining 1 tbsp of ghee in the Dutch oven (no need to clean it) on medium heat. Add the chicken with its sauce plus 1/2 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in potatoes and simmer just until heated through. Season with salt to taste. Add additional water if you want a thinner sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with rice and lime wedges. Pass the chiles (or additional chile powder) at the table for people who want to add more heat.