Monday, December 26, 2011

Food Resolutions

I find it disheartening to see the series of post-Christmas commercials that begin running on Boxing Day. "The holiday we've been harping on you about since a week before Halloween is over! Come by and stock up on marked-off crap, and be sure to get some Special K and a Bowflex. Because you've gotten super fat lately--time for a new year's resolution!"

Kicking yourself into a change because of the calendar, fueled by pressure and negativity, doesn't seem like a fantastic way to stick with well-intentioned goals. I prefer ringing in the new year with positive, fun goals--and saving the tough stuff for later. To give 2012 a big hug, I'm resolving to make 12 new recipes--one for each upcoming month--that I've never tried before. And, for extra fun and accountability, I'll blog about each adventure. It's like Julie & Julia, except without the insanity and slightly more manageable between the thesis, graduation, losing the last ten pounds, and whatever else this fresh new year has in store.

1. Alton Brown's Roast Duck
I watched the Good Eats episode where Alton Brown made this roast duck, based on the traditional holiday roast goose that Dickens loved so dearly. Although you have to plan ahead and prep a few days ahead of time, this looks easy enough to be successful and decadent. Already planning a wonderful orange balsamic vinegar sauce to make it my own.

2. Moussaka
I've wanted to make moussaka all year long, but it just never happened. This year, I want to make a point of bringing this hearty, cheese-clouded vision into reality in our kitchen.

3. Cassoulet
In the same warm, rich, comforting vein as moussaka, I'd like to try this classic French dish. The ingredient list is long, the cooking time is epic, but with a reputation like cassoulet's, the results should eclipse the labor.

4. Chocolate Souffle
Well, since there's no international trips on the foreseeable horizon, my only option is bring some Provence into my own world. I've never made any souffles, but I feel ready. I could do a savory souffle, but there's something about accomplishing a new feat in the world of desserts and baking that eclipses everything else. The science is so sensitive, especially with a finicky riser like this. If it doesn't work out, I suppose I have concrete evidence to support a more evenly-baking gas range upgrade.

5. Beef Cheeks
I was lucky enough to try beef cheeks at BEAST two summers ago. I had no idea what to expect, but when I tasted that molten-tender entree, I practically melted. With all of the butchery options in Portland, I'm sure I can find the cut, and want to convert Matt--without maybe mentioning the odd body part right away.

6. Key Lime Pie
I've torn out several versions of key lime pie from Martha Stewart Food, Bon Appetit and whatever other magazines I get my hands on, but I've never gotten around to actually making it. I'm defaulting to King Arthur Flour's recipe, the baking authority that helped me bake the best Christmas cookies I've ever made this year. This is Matt's favorite dessert, so I'm thinking June for his birthday would be just perfect.

7. Tamales
I never even had a tamale until just a year or so ago! The best I've tried were made by mothers of people I worked with, with recipes I'm sure I'll never have a glimpse of. Nevertheless, it's worth a try. And try I will! This recipe looks family-loved, delicious and well-written.

8. Rack of Lamb
I love lamb. Along with duck, it's the dish I always look for any time we go to some fantastic, perfectly pretentious restaurant (note to self: many fantastic, perfectly pretentious Portland restaurants to try in 2012!). I was going to make it for Easter a few years ago, before finding out that certain family members refuse to eat it. Shame for them, but more for me! No more waiting for the "right" crowd to come by for a meal. This year, I'm cooking for myself.

9. Julia Child's Roasted Chicken and Tarragon
I don't have Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which seems awful when I type it out. Maybe I should snatch it up before any more time goes by. Either way, this chicken recipe looks incredible, and with the fresh tarragon that grows in my backyard in the summer, I've already got one of the title ingredients easily taken care of.

10. Pad Thai
Wait, you may say. You've already made Pad Thai! Yes, I have. And I've failed miserably every. Single. Time. This is the year I make a dish that actually tastes kind of like what I love to order at Thai restaurants, not just Asian-ish noodles that I choke down and swear aren't that bad. I found this very informative write-up on how to make this possible, and I'm working up my nerve to try again. Maybe a little later in the year, after a few of these turn into successes. I'm still feeling a little burned.

11. Country Captain
The name is so funny, how can you not want to try this? This is a traditional southern dish, with some definite Indian flavors, along with our all-time favorite--ham! Also a plus? Country Captain is a one-pot dish, one of my favorite ways to serve dinner. Just top rice and serve.

12. Baked Alaska
Happy 2013! I will say when this glorious dessert is aflame. I've had it once, the night I graduated high school at a fancy restaurant in Tacoma. Festive and vintage, if I'm anything like the girl that's typing right now, this will be the perfect end to a delicious year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Dickens-Style Christmas

Today I was in the kitchen most of the day. The majority of that time was spent baking cookies, but do you really want to hear all about stupid Christmas cookies? No. You don't. Actually, I hope you don't, because I am so sick of cookies I could puke. Unfortunately they make good gifts, and I keep thinking of other people to give a beautiful little Wilton baking box to. Although I do have to note that I had a few new cookie recipes mixed in with the stand-bys. One was the cover recipe from Bon Appetit's great cookie tome issue, Peppermint Meringues. Who knew there was a way to marry full flavor, delightful texture, a guilt-free calorie count and a whimsical Whoville-like exterior. They look beautiful wrapped together in a box, and taste light and minty-fresh. You can use any extract in the cabinet, so I'm looking forward to coconut and orange meringues this spring and summer.

I also made a savory baked good (which I won't name because the recipient reads this, and it's supposed to be a surprise). I was flipping through the cookbook as I kneaded and baked it, looking for some dinner inspiration. Matt and I are both feeling a little rut-like it seems. Mexican once a week? Check. A piece of chicken and side dish? Of course. Pizza or burger? At least one of the above, usually. Last night I found a great recipe for beef stroganoff that I amazingly had all ingredients for, which was a very refreshing new set of flavors. I was liking the change-up, and when I saw a recipe for sriracha-based Tikka Masala, I saw a whole other rarely-used country to jump into.

While the flavors of tikka masala are thought of as Indian on our American palate, it's actually a very British dish. Kind of like how pizza is American Italian, or chalupas are... Taco Bell. The Brits love their thick sauces, so they found a way to combine the great new spices found when venturing into India with heavy cream. Watch enough Gordon Ramsay (and why wouldn't you? HOT!) and you'll see him add this to many a menu.

You can find tikka masala at many Indian restaurants here as well, and it's sort of a "gateway dish" into the amazing world of Indian-style flavor. Remember your first California roll when you dared to try this crazy sushi stuff? In the same way, I remember my first tikka masala at my all-time favorite Indian restaurant, Chennai Masala in Hillsboro. Hillsboro has an unfair number of these restaurants, all buffet-style for lunch, allowing you to try an entire array of dishes you've likely never heard of before. Here in Hubbard? Um, nyet. I think the closest outlet I have to this cuisine is maybe Lake Oswego, and not like Bridgeport Village easy-to-get-to Lake Oswego. Freaking downtown, BMW-crammed on the lake Lake Oswego. Screw that. As a result, the only times I have Indian anymore are when I have some rare appointment that takes me through Tanasbourne. Like residency! Oh my goodness that's coming up in like three weeks. Wow, I know what I'm going to be eating!

Sorry. Anyway, I just happened to have most all of the ingredients for this dish as well, including a full bottle of sriracha. Normally I shy away from making distinctly Indian-tasting food, since Matt tends not to like it, but today I just didn't care. I wanted to make my first tikka masala, and if he didn't like it, there were Costco chicken bakes in the freezer. This recipe, and all others I've ever seen, call for the chicken to be marinated in yogurt and spices. The only yogurt I had was an expired cup of Tillamook papaya guava yogurt, so I decided to use the last of my sour cream instead. The sauce also calls for heavy cream, but I used the last of that making caramel for damn cookies earlier. So, 1% milk would have to suffice. And I'm happy to say it did simmer up rich and creamy, and probably with a significant cut in fat and calories from the original recipe.

This recipe was way easier than I thought. You have to plan ahead since the chicken needs to marinade for a significant amount of time, but once the chicken's ready to go you're just cooking up a simple sauce. This was a good thing, because after fussing over dozens of cookies and meringues and bars and breads all day, I was running on fumes by dinnertime. But the even better surprise with this was the fact that it did taste very close to what I love loading my plate up with at my far-away favorite restaurant. The spices were spot-on (the woodsy-sweetness from the cinnamon, distinct cardamom, aromatic cumin), the creaminess was naan-loving wonderful, and I couldn't believe I'd pulled it off my own stove. I think I'm like 1/4 British, so maybe I've got a slight advantage with getting it to work out (versus, say, my ongoing battles to make Thai food that isn't garbage).

And look, it's red and green! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sriracha Chicken Tikka Masala

(From The Sriracha Cookbook)

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups plain yogurt (I used sour cream; it seemed to work out nicely)
1/4 cup sriracha
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp allspice or cinnamon
1 tbsp pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt

For the sauce:
2 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp garam masala (yes, I did have this in my pantry. What can I say? I'm a Penzey's addict. Readily available at any Whole Foods/New Seasons/Metropolitan Market/Penzey's/Market Spice)
1  15-oz can tomato sauce
1/4 cup sriracha
2 cups heavy cream (I used the milk I had in the fridge. I'm sure heavy cream would've been awesomely rich and wonderful, but I don't feel the dish suffered from the switch. Definitely better for my butt, that's for sure)
Salt and pepper

Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes. Place in a large resealable bag and set aside

To make the marinade, in a medium bowl, mix together the yogurt, sriracha, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, allspice/cinnamon, black pepper and salt. Pour over the chicken, seal the bag, and turn the bag several times to evenly coat each piece. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, although overnight is best (mine went for 10 hrs).

Preheat the broiler to medium-high heat. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the excess marinade from the chicken and discard. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers. Set each finished skewer on the prepared baking sheet. When all the skewers are prepared, place the baking sheet under the broiler or place them on the grill. Cook, turning once, until browned and cooked through, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the cumin, coriander, garam masala, and paprika, and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and sriracha. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Remove the cooked chicken from the skewers and add to the sauce. Simmer for an additional 3 minutes.

Serve over basmati rice garnished with cilantro or parsley. Naan or pita bread is also a welcome way to sop up the irresistible sauce.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Iron Chef America Chopped Super-Challenge: Thanksgiving

Since I spent $200+ dollars on Thanksgiving groceries, I've been trying to squeeze as much longevity out of the leftovers as possible. As comforting and delicious the traditional combo of turkey, gravy, stuffing and pulverized spuds tastes once at the table (then several more times in sandwich form), you get a little tired of the same lineup after a few days. So I've been trying to get crafty with the "secret ingredients" in the fridge, with what I've lovingly called the Iron Chef America Chopped Super-Challenge Thanksgiving Edition!
First up, a rather common leftover solution: turkey pot pie. Although most pantries are stocked with the staples to make perfect pastry crust right now after prepping those pumpkin and apple pies (flour, butter, shortening, a little ice water), you can also pick up a premade pie crust on seasonal sale at most grocery stores. They were going for only $2.00 at Safeway yesterday. And if you've got a coupon? SCORE! Sorry, I've been trying to extreme coupon lately. I'm not good at it, though. I just end up buying a bunch of garbage I never would've touched otherwise. BUT in this case, it could be a good thing.

The filling is a simple mix of leftover turkey, and the veggies that got left out of the cavity: carrots, celery, onion, whatever herbs you have stuck in the fridge (I had sage and thyme in this mix). Saute the onions and veggies to soften slightly before cooking. Toss it with a can of cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup and a scoop of sour cream, salt and pepper. I also added some dried oregano. Top with the second crust (with a few slices atop the crust for ventilation) and bake for about 75 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and you can see the inside filling bubbling from the ventilation slits. Allow to cool about 15 minutes before slicing. It'll be messy, but as long as you get some crust and filling on the plate, you'll be happy.

Two nights ago we were watching Mario Batali explore the beautiful world of pasta, and risotto was brought up. "I bet I could make a yummy turkey risotto," I challenged.

"With mushrooms?" Matt asked. Alton Brown had just cooked some crazy-good looking sauteed mushrooms.

Why not?

Turkey and mushroom risotto utilized, of course, leftover turkey, the surplus of stock, and the last little bit of white wine in the fridge. Again you can throw in herbs still lurking around. I just opted for parsley on this one. Also, feel free to play with your cheese. Parmigiano reggiano is the traditional cheese of choice in the dish, but risotto is something you should feel comfortable to be creative with. I used the leftover Yodeling Goat Gouda that was on our cheese tray. Grated fine and stirred in at the very last moment before serving, the gouda's nuttiness played marvelously with the woodsy mushrooms.

Then the challenge had to take a night off, because I came down with strep throat. I was feeling kinda off making risotto, but I powered through (along with decorating the Christmas tree). But yesterday, I was down for the count. Literally. I think I was awake for about five whole hours yesterday, which rivals Mehitabel in sleepiness. But tonight I was ready to make up for it. We still had a ton of turkey from the 20+ pound bird roasted up for a party of 6, and lots of veggies from the crudites tray. Why don't people like to eat crudites? It's like you'd feel dirty not to have veggies and dip out, but come on. Everybody wants those deviled eggs and chips! Maybe next year I'll give up. We'll see.

At lunch I picked up a jar of Maya Kaimal's curry simmer sauce, the best curry starter you'll ever, well, start with. Whole Foods has a great variety of flavors, and I opted for the Kashmiri Curry flavor. With tomato and nutmeg flavors, I thought it would tame the turkey flavor and morph it gently into something new and exotic. I sauteed onion, leftover mini bell peppers and diced baby carrots and then slowly simmered turkey, chunks from the sweet potato casserole (minus streusel topping) and peas in the sauce.

Sure, I could have placed this leftover menagerie atop a bed of fluffy white rice. But instead, I opted for EXTREME UTILIZATION. Curry atop fluffy leftover mashed potatoes. Would I consider it any other day? No. Did it work? Freakishly well! It was creamy and velvety on texture-sensation, flavorful topping. Dinner was all the yummier knowing I'd been a resourceful fiend.

While I was waiting for the curry to simmer up, I mixed up a turkey salad for tomorrow's wraps: a variation of traditional chicken salad with leftover celery and cranberries. Just under a week later, and we'll put cling wrap on this reusing rampage. At least I can honestly say I did that gobbler proud.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Show!

When lining up Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in my mind, it's difficult to pick a favorite. I love the macabre whimsy of Halloween, a holiday that allows you to decorate cupcakes with zombie hands and eyeballs. One that permits a decorating scheme derived from the most twisted fantasies of Tim Burton without frightening your neighbors. Christmas seems like a default shoo-in, what with the gift-giving and cookie-baking and sheer magic that one feels from dusk on December 24 to the break of dawn the next morning. But Thanksgiving holds a special place for me, with its culinary focus and excuse to break out the very best wedding gifts out of your china cabinet. In my family it's my holiday, the one I get to host. It deserves as much reverence as other holidays, but is increasingly victim to holiday-creep as Black Friday entreches greedily upon its territory. When you can't find canned pumpkin through the forest of candy canes at the grocery story in mid-November, you know something is deeply wrong with this country.
It is in this spirit, I beseech you fellow foodies, demand your Thanksgiving! Occupy the poultry aisle! Boycott the Christmas Tree lighting taking place a week and a half before Thanksgiving even happens (I'm looking at you, Woodburn Outlet)! We have traditions to uphold, and Christmas can wait its damn turn.
This year was an especially fantastic Thansgiving, if I do say so. Time was on my side: with my new job at a company that thinks that giving employees a life outside work might be a good idea, I had 5 glorious days off: Wednesday through today. This meant I had all day Wednesday to prep and decorate at a leisurely pace, and actually enjoy what I was doing without knocking myself out. I always enjoy hosting holidays, but sometimes I do feel like I'm going to pass out. Preparations began on Monday, when I made that famous cheese spread. This year I made a new dip, Martha Stewart's caramelized onion and bacon dip, and... we have a new tradition! This is a savory dream come true. I was a little concerned that there were too many onions, but you cook them down for over an hour until they're soft and yielding, and they take on a unique sweetness that is the perfect compliment to the beautiful bacon chunks. I served them with good, hefty kettle chips, but it also tastes great on Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches in place of mayo. Onion dip and cranberry sauce. Who knew? And isn't that second-day sandwich what we're all here for?

But what really ran away as the star of the day was the old stand-by, deviled eggs. Although they are a stand-by at each of our family holidays, from Easter to Christmas Eve, I haven't attempted them in years. I made a terrible batch a few years back by following a Paula Deen recipe, which called for like a whole cup of mayonnaise. Disgusting! That just waters down the yolks and makes them taste like lard. You want the eggs to still taste like eggs, just slightly enhanced with just a tablespoon of mayo, a little mustard, a splash of vinegar and festive paprika. Is it as old-fashioned as a pregnant 60's housewife smoking while chugging down a Manhattan? Perhaps. But every time I see some remodeled/deconstructed/up-kicked recipe for deviled eggs with bacon, crab, capers, fiddleheads, whatever is the ingredient du jour, I cringe. JUST LET THE EGGS BE EGGS, PEOPLE! You'll run out of them before you even mix up the punch (so be sure to hoard some extras in the fridge).

With my surplus of time this year, I got to try out a cute idea I'd seen in Martha Stewart Living several years ago. They're cornucopia placesettings made out of ice cream cones. You take each cone and place the end in a steamy spout of a teakettle, letting it soften and become malleable after about one minute. Curl the end up to create a cornucopia-esque tail, then place on a baking sheet to dry. Dip the open end in white chocolate, then in crushed pistachios to create that... uhh, I don't know what it's called, but I know it looks like a cornucopia. Now they're ready to be adorably placed on each plate, filled with jelly beans (I was hoping to find some kind of veggie-shaped candies, but apparently those aren't around, so I took Martha's much easier suggestion).

The only bad part? There's not a hell of a lot people can do with them (do you really want to chew on a pistachio-covered ice cream cone?), so they pretty much ended up in the trash. But they really LOOKED cool for about an hour.

As is our family tradition, we had about five times as much food as our small crowd required, such as dual desserts (my mom's wonderful pumpkin pie, and the new recipe I tried this year for cranberry cheesecake at Matt's request). I have a gigantic Ziploc bag full of turkey in the deli drawer, a Pyrex full of sweet potatoes, a ton of green bean casserole, and loads of cranberry sauce. I'm trying to Iron Chef this stuff as much as I can, without resorting to that disgusting recipe on the Best Foods radio spot ("take all your leftovers, mix with mayo and bake!" Yeah, I didn't believe it was real either...but it is). Last night I made spaghetti with chicken sausage, and made crazy-good garlic bread by spreading leftover sharp cheese spread on baguettes. Topped with some Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle and broiled for 5 minutes, and I could have eaten this as a meal on its own. Did I mention I'm totally not going to weigh myself this week?

But that's okay. Because Thanksgiving is a chance to break out your best ingredients, test out a new recipe you'd never have the time or need to do the rest of the year, and see the family who can't all gather in the same room normally. You may make a bunch of dishes and chow down a few extra calories, but it's a small drop in the bucket of a whole year of routine.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Spread the Holiday Love

The piquant smell of a just-cracked black label Tillamook Extra-Sharp Cheddar, a dribble of fresh lime juice, a generous squeeze of spicy horseradish. Thanksgiving must be this week! I've been making this sharp cheese spread for about two decades, since I was just a kid. Only four ingredients, there is one rule that is the most important and most difficult to follow: the spread must sit in the fridge at least 24 hours. Three days? Even better. The longer it sits, the more it melds together. So, once you start thawing the turkey, it's time to make cheese spread.

This recipe was featured in a memoir essay I wrote this semester, so I thought I'd feature that here with the recipe.

From "The Family You Choose"

While I was growing up, the holiday high season stretched from Halloween to Christmas Day. Each special occasion was marked by signature dishes, with tastes becoming ubiquitous for the day they were served. I loved how the food accented the seasons, something as simple as smell could evoke the entire scene: warm spices bathing in cider and I was back at the pumpkin patch, peppermint and chocolate resurrected the downtown Seattle Nordstrom’s Christmas windows, where Brianna and I waited in itchy petticoats to have our picture taken with Santa. From the time I could reach the kitchen counter, I wanted to help create the magic. My first holiday dish was from a kid’s cookbook that my mom ordered me from the Current catalog. A pair of big, spiral-bound books in heavy laminated paper (as the printer had anticipated splatters and spills) arrived in the mail. One was a book of recipes from around the world, with each two-page spread devoted to a different country. A little story above the menu boiled the culinary histories of each nation down to a child-sized soundbite, such as the enchanting origins of French toast: One night, two children were sent to bed without dinner by their parents. Their butler, taking pity on the poor dears, got out some old bread and eggs, fried it up, and French toast was born! This raised so many questions for me: what had the children done to deserve such cruel punishment? Was the butler’s betrayal of his employers discovered? The second book was simpler, organizing itself around the holidays of the year versus world cultures. The Thanksgiving page, for instance, kept concepts simple, by providing only a couple appetizers and side dishes to “help Mom out.” One in particular caught my eye with the beautiful words extra sharp cheddar cheese. The recipe was for tangy cheese spread meant to be served on Ritz crackers.
                “It has horseradish, though,” I told Mom, handing her the book and pointing to the ingredients in questions. “And is sharp cheese bad?”
                “Sharp cheese is the best kind!” she said, jotting my ingredients next to her own on the long, scroll-like grocery list. “There’s only a little horseradish in it, and when you mix it with everything else and let it sit, the ingredients all marinate and mellow together to become a whole other thing.” In the kitchen, Mom looked like Snow White baking pies, minus the meddling birds. Black hair with a hint of a wave cut just above her shoulders and calm, even lips that she marked with lipstick only when we were headed out or when company was coming in. Her hands stayed constantly cool and smooth to the touch, like brushing against fine silk on a summer evening. I have no idea how she keeps her hands so pristine: nearly as many dishes washed, cheese grated and toaster plucks later and mine are dry, cracked and scarred, with broken nails and eczema patches. No matter how much she teaches me, there are still the things about her that seem enchanted.
When I was eight and determined to make the first batch of tangy cheese spread, Mom and I went to Fred Meyer together for groceries, where she showed me that distinct, tangy Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese by the titillating black wrapper with a ribbon of red around the middle. The horseradish, pale and pungent, and rendered simply complimentary when calmed by the lemon juice and sweet cream butter. Once we were home she fished the box cheese grater out from underneath the counter and let me shred the entire loaf, noting at the end how the small chunk of cheese transformed into exactly two cups, a rule of thumb now rooted in my memory. A good mix, a few days in the fridge, and my spread was outshining the relish tray in the appetizer round. You’ll have to share your secret recipe, the grown-ups winked, slathering up another Ritz.
With that first success, I was convinced—a good recipe was a passport to adoration.

Thanksgiving Sharp Cheese Spread
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
10 oz shredded Tillamook Extra-Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp prepared horseradish

Mix all ingredients together with a fork until well-blended. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving, up to 3-4 days. Serve with your favorite sturdy cracker or crostini.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Attack of the Clone Soup

One of the most gratifying successes in the kitchen is when you're able to mimic something you love. Whether it's a recipe your grandmother used to serve on days you called in sick from school, or the crack-like salad rolls at the hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant down the street, recreating a favorite dish on your own is a sign you've got some mad skills yourself.

Tonight (well actually, last night, since I never eat a soup the same night I make it), I took a stab at bringing my favorite McMenamin's treat to our table. The dish I craved? The John Barleycorn pub's African Peanut Soup. They serve it on Thursdays, and I used to get a little cup of it with half a turkey sandwich to go (with a stingy 30 minute lunch, it was perpetually takeout). The African Peanut Soup was almost curry-like, but in stew form. Salty, savory, and so different--not your everyday Chicken Noodle Soup soup du jour! Basically it was like getting a great curry, but not quite as rich, so you can skip over the idea of rice and eat the best part guilt-free. I'd never had anything like it.

When I was going through my recipe portfolio, I found a recipe I tore out of Cooking Light right before I stopped subscribing. I was so sick of trying out healthy recipes and having them turn out so BLAND! And I'm not talking about no cheese, no bacon bland. I mean no spice. There's no calories in cayenne! Just because you're trying to eat healthy doesn't mean everything has to taste like rice cakes. But with the basic recipe as a base, I employed the full force of Penzey's Eastern-style best to bring out the vivid flavors created at McMenamin's. Curry, cumin, paprika and a little cayenne, plus lots of salt and pepper, brought the simple ingredients to life. The original version also called for zucchini, but I thought butternut squash seemed more like the highly orange dish I was used to enjoying.

I simmered everything together last night, and warmed it up on the stove when I got home from work. I was amazed--it tasted like my little cup of happiness, now a few roads removed from my office for lunch hour. I figured Matt could make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but amazingly, he loved it too! It did smell crazy-good. I've slowly opened him up to squash; I think he had some bad experiences with it in the past. Oh poor, mushy vegetables, spoiling the reputation of well-cooked wonders.

I served this with some delicious, crusty French bread from Whole Foods, but naan would have been spectacular. Top with peanuts or cashews, and cilantro if it's around. Don't tell McMenamin's we've figured them out. No need for some Flaming Moe's-like jealousy.

African Peanut Soup
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I used Secret Aardvark)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups cooked butternut squash (I used an organic frozen variety from Whole Foods)
2 tbsp flour
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained of juice
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Generous amount of salt and pepper

Whisk chicken broth, peanut butter, tomato paste and hot sauce together in a bowl. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and cook one additional minute. Add broth mixture, tomatoes, spices, butternut squash and chicken to pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least one hour. Adjust spices to taste. Either cool and refrigerate to reheat the next night, or eat it then. But you shouldn't do that. It never tastes as good.

If you want to be extra fancy, garnish with peanuts and cilantro.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Early Successes

I wanted to write an honest Eats of Eden blog entry to celebrate two happy things: my friend Kiersten Krajcar's fantastic new food blog on weeknight cooking, and the sent status of my last graduate school packet this semester. Me and my typewriter haven't been the best of friends the last month or so, and even writing a happy blog post has made me want to hide. But this is prime time, with Thanksgiving and such right around the corner, so I'm going to be taking advantage of my school break to share some fun stuff.

This recipe, for Kiersten, is an easy weeknight favorite I've used since ripping it out of Cooking Light in our first apartment. For some reason, this is one of Matt's most-requested dishes. So much so that I got really sick of it for a few years. I decided to make it last week with some leftover mashed potatoes, which is the best occasion for it: that way, you only have to make the super-easy shrimp stir-fried topping and not worrying about boiling and mashing up potatoes. The original recipe called for crawfish, but since I never have those around, I've always used shrimp, with excellent results. The cayenne and paprika turn the shrimp a blushing red color, the perfect hue to add some brightness to fall and winter plates.

This is a great way to get out of the weeknight chicken rut, which is a particular danger for me. Italian. Mexican. Asian. Chicken, chicken, chicken. Break the cycle! At least, that's the advice I'm trying to give myself. You carry on with whatever's working in your life.

Watch out while you're plating. One little taste and you'll start eating everything straight out of the pan.

Easy Red Confetti Shrimp
4 cups mashed potatoes (leftovers ideally; otherwise boil 1 1/2 pounds of sliced potatoes, then mash with milk, salt, pepper and 3/4 shredded Gouda cheese)
2 tbsp butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 green pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels (the Super Sweet Corn from Trader Joe's works great)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne (or a little less if you don't like it spicy)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb shrimp, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/2 cup chopped onions

Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, green pepper and garlic; saute 5 minutes. Stir in corn, saute 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, thyme and shrimp, saute 5 minutes until thoroughly heated through. Remove from heat and serve over mashed potatoes, garnished with green onions.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Squeeeeeky Loaf!

We hear ad nauseam that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Even though it’s overused, it perfectly describes how I feel after Matt’s been away for a whole week. I guess I’ve taken for granted just how much I count on him to help me keep this place from falling apart. So far this week, with him away on a work trip, I’ve broken the patio umbrella by not folding it down as a windstorm rolled in, had the grass grow way too far up my calf with the rain/sun/rain/sun roller coaster, clogged the sink, and forgot to feed the cats at least once. Suffice to say I’m anxiously waiting for him to get home tonight, and like any anticipated occasion, I had to cook something special to celebrate. 

As mentioned before, one of Matt’s favorite foods is meatloaf. I spent quite a few years of cooking-learning not crazy about it, mostly because I didn’t utilize the most important trick: mixing your meat. Going with straight ground beef has a flat, one-note flavor that feels like having to mow through a giant hamburger without the delicious fixings. Combine the ground beef staple with another meat; I use ground pork most of the time, but ground bulk sausage tastes nice and spicy. Make a Greekloaf with ground beef, ground lamb and feta! But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

I wanted to make this a Welcome Back to Oregon meatloaf, since the nasty humidity and roaming lizards of North Carolina have made Matt feel the fondness for our state. I’ve been lucky enough to have some unique state staples in my fridge tonight, including a pack of Olympic Provisions bacon and Tillamook Cheese Curds. Olympic Provisions makes the best bacon you can buy in Portland. Plus it comes in these provincial butcher-paper packs with their elegant logo sticker that’s oh-so fun to carry around in your farmer’s market basket.  

Tillamook Cheese curds are the best part of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Which is saying a LOT, since it’s a CHEESE FACTORY. There’s watching giant blocks of cheddar whittled down into baby loaves, the vast ice cream counter, little stuffed cows in the gift shop. But nothing compares to the addictive little bites of mild, salty young cheddar cheese that you get to pop with abandon at the end of the tour. They’re delicious eaten right there, where the cheesemakers are hard at work. They’re basically the beginnings of the cheddaring process, when the milk is just beginning to solidify and hasn’t been formed into loaves yet. Mixed up and full of little air bubbles, the curds make a hilarious “squeeeek!” against your teeth while you chew. They were always my favorite part of any childhood trip to the Oregon Coast, right up there with Pig ‘n Pancake. 
I thought the combination of coastal Tillamook cheese curds and Portland bacon would be perfect on a cool, clear last night of September in Oregon. So with pumpkin candles burning and ghost lights twinkling, I mixed up my newly beloved Bacon and Cheese Curd-Studded Meatloaf. I mixed all meatloaf ingredients together by hand (you can’t use a spoon; you need fingers to mush all that goodness together!). I’ve seen other cheesy meatloaves that put half of the meat mix in the pan, then layer on the cheese, then put the rest of the meat on top, making a molten center of fabulous fromage. I like secret surprises in each bite, so I like to mix it all in. Be sure to dice the bacon pretty small for the same reason—you don’t want a giant mouthful of bacon, just little hints of it that add to the meatloaf’s flavor without stealing it away.  

I’ve got to always top with a ketchup-mustard glaze… tradition and all. Tonight I added a little squeeze of Oregon’s own Secret Aardvark Sauce, the stuff that usurped sriracha as our favorite spicy condiment. Couldn't stop taking tastes of this sweet and spicy sauce... you know, to make sure it was okay and all. When I opened up the oven after the loaf had been in for an hour, squeeky cheese was poking out from crevices, while other bits remained hidden deep within. So cheesy! And hidden bacon craters! Not so much a bacon bite as much as its smoky essence, making you just say, hmmm. This is insanely delicious and I can't quite put my finger on how. A bite lends all of the players a little piece of the stage: creamy, melting cheese, crisp bacon, and that sauce! Go for the end pieces. They retain the most of it (and get crispier bits, if you're a bark fan like me). Served with fresh green beans and mashed red potatoes. It reheats well for leftovers, too. Or as it will when Matt eventually get home, since his flight was delayed like five times. 

Home sweet home! And yay for unclogged sinks!

Oregon Fall Bacon and Cheese-Studded Meatloaf
1 lb lean ground beef, (85/15 or 90/10)
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Tillamook Cheddar cheese curds
5 strips heritage bacon (Olympic Provisions, if you're in Portland!), cooked and diced into small bits
2 tbsp fresh parsley, diced
1/2 teaspoon mix dried herbs, like Penzey's Mural of Flavor (or just use dried basil)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
Vegetable oil, for pan

For the sauce:
1/3 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tsp dried mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 squirt (1/2 tsp) Secret Aardvark Sauce or other hot sauce (optional)

Remove ground meat from refrigerator and allow to rest for about 15 minutes at room temperature. Add all non-sauce ingredients to a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until just incorporated. Do not overmix. Transfer to a loaf pan that has been greased with vegetable oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until interior of meatloaf has reached 160 degrees. The top should be developing a brown crust, and juices should be pooling and bubbling around the loaf. 

While meatloaf bakes, combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until fully combined. Set aside.

Remove from oven, top evenly with sauce, and bake another 10-15 minutes. Allow the meatloaf to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Free Bird

The last week has been guy food heavy. I'm not sure what prompted this savory, meaty, spicy food trend, but there's no one in the house complaining. Which is more than I can say when I go on a salad-and-salmon binge. Last weekend we visited a local meat market called Voget's Meats that's literally a 2-minute bike ride from my house, that I've never gone into before. Sometimes the stuff that's smack in front of your face has a way of blurring away. It's a small family place in the same vein as Gartner's on a much smaller scale. Couple this with the lovely fruit and berry stands in town, throw in a bakery, and I'd have my own version of provence right here in the middle of nowhere. Too bad everything shutters at 5:00, just as I'm hustling down to my car. Oh well.

So Voget's has their own house-made Li'l Smokies sausages, which come in a big sausage rope you have to cut up yourself. So authentic! So German! Makes me want to go order this thousand-something dollar cuckoo clock that I plan on asking for for Christmas and anniversaries the next decade and a half. Slow-cooking these little guys inspired me to try another football season classic that I've never attempted before: wings. I'm not a wing nut, and I think most restaurants and such make them really crappy more often than not, but I loved a classic version that Matt's friend Pete made for us last season. They're everything that the snack should be: crispy, hot, great with cooling blue cheese (in my case ranch, since blue cheese makes me gag... yes I know, send on the hate mail) but good enough to stand up on their own. We bought a bag of pre-frozen chicken drumsticks, since I don't like the other parts of the wing anyway, and Matt got the treasured recipe over the phone.

Interesting side note... as Matt pointed out, chicken wings have gone up tremendously in price the last decade or so. It used to be the garbage bulk meat, next to the big pack of chicken livers and hearts, that you ate when you were in grad school or trying to feed a family of 10. Now as a reigning snack of choice, it's like twice as much per pound. Just saying, start stocking up on beef tongue. Today's budget-stretcher is tomorrow's specialty foodie darling (see tripe).

Matt cooked the wings in small batches while I made the sauce, and then it was just toss-and-serve. How often do you get to have something so FUN to eat? Each wing is novelty in its miniature stature, its resemblance to food you usually have to be in either a dirty sports bar or crappy family-friendly chain restaurant to enjoy--it just feels like cheating nature. I'm eating delicious mini chickens in my OWN HOME! Take that, universe!

Despite how good these were, I'd also made that big pot of smokies (and another dish I won't admit to making here because it's really over the top embarrassing). So we had some leftovers. How do you use up leftover chicken wings? For some reason, spaghetti seemed perfect. I'm not sure where I've seen Spaghetti and Wings together before, but I know I have. And I know it didn't seem wrong. But instead of your normal marinara, I had a recipe I'd been wanting to try for a few weeks now. The clipping from Food Network Magazine had been sitting on the counter for a few months now, just waiting for a night we were feeling brave. The Neely's Barbecue Spaghetti. Pulled pork, homemade barbecue sauce and pasta. Ick! But also, hmm. I love all those things. Could they possibly work together?

We wouldn't know until we tried. The recipe calls for a slowly-cooked barbecue sauce that takes about 2 hours to cook, but I was making dinner on a weeknight and, typical to my don't-copy-me fashion, I didn't read the recipe beforehand. I always read the ingredients, but with prep I'm just like, "uh huh, yeah, I have a stove. We'll be fine." I reduced the cooking time by about half.

After the sauce is ready, you just toss in the pulled pork, stir it in with the noodles and serve. And taste! That was the crazy part. The verdict? Good, but better the next day. Right off the stove the sauce was still really sweet, so with the pulled pork with its candied, caramelly bark bits, it was a little too candy-ish for my taste. When I warmed up leftovers the next day, the spices had pulled through and made it a richer, more savory dish. If the sauce had been cooked the full time the first time around, the fresh results probably would have been closer to that end of the spectrum. You could always make the sauce the night before and warm it up to toss with the meat and pasta. If you actually plan ahead, I'd recommend giving it a try. Especially if you have a few extra wings lying around. The bold, hot flavors with the sweet barbecue tang was almost good enough to keep us from crying when the Eagles blew a 14-point lead.


Pete's Hot Wings
3 lbs frozen chicken drumettes
1 stick butter
1 large bottle of Frank's Red Hot sauce (Not sure on the ounces, but there's the two sizes--the one that looks like you're buying to have in the fridge to shake on things modestly, and the one that looks like you're buying WAY TOO MUCH.  Go for that one.)
1 habanero pepper, diced and seeded
1 jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded
4 cloves garlic
Vegetable oil for frying

To make the sauce:
Melt half of the butter stick over medium heat in a saucepan. Add garlic, 1/2 of the habanero, all of the jalapeno, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers have softened (5-6 minutes). Watch out, the fumes are going to be strong. Open a window. Add the entire bottle of Frank's sauce, the rest of the butter and the remaining habanero. If you would prefer less heat, omit the un-sauteed additional pepper. Or if you're crazy and want way more heat, add peppers until you cry. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Keep warm while you prepare the chicken.

To make the chicken:
Thaw chicken overnight in fridge. Fry in small batches in either a deep fat fryer, or on the stove in a Dutch oven. Chicken is ready when the skin gets a nice golden tan. Keep completed wings warm in a 250 degree oven while the rest cooks. When complete, coat the wings in the warm sauce in a large bowl. Serve with blue cheese, ranch, and a whole crapload of napkins.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Corner Story

As you know, I love Bon Appetit. It's my favorite food magazine, even with jerkface Andrew Knowlton's snarky, pretentious, name-dropping articles. The recipes are so consistently good, I know I can always reach into my clippings file to find something that will turn into a hit. No cookbook on my shelf holds that much clout, aside from maybe Pure Flavor. But there's something about the breadth of the magazine that goes beyond what one cookbook can offer. And when I can really sit down and dig into an issue (which doesn't happen as much as I'd like with only 24 hours in a day and all), I inevitably come up with a new idea I'm dying to try.

This time, it was a little snippet in the corner of page 32 of The September Issue (little Anna Wintour reference there... you're welcome).  It's a feature they title 3 Chefs, One Ingredient. This month the secret ingredient was anchovies. I just bought my first jar of anchovy fillets a few weeks ago for a recipe, and I was surprised by how not grossed out I was. The fillets are so harmless, with a familiar texture and salty, innocent aroma. A far cry from the creepy headed creatures in shady-looking tin cans that I tend to associate with the ingredient. I can sneak them past Matt, the most fish-hatingest person I've ever known, in a dressing or dish and he doesn't say a word. And this is a guy who can sniff out a pinch of rosemary in a whole pot of tomato sauce. (He doesn't like rosemary, by the way. Add THAT to the list.) Chef Kelly English from a restaurant in Memphis's Deviled Eggs with Anchovies were a little much: entire fillets atop deviled eggs. I'm a purist when it comes to my deviled eggs. No bacon bits, no relish, no pimentos or olives or dukkah or whatever else is a hit at the Fancy Foods Show that season. I want them clean and simple, like my grandma makes at Easter. A tiny pinch of paprika is as wild as I'm willing to go there. The Anchovy and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette was nice, but not exactly a dish. It was the vibrant green Crispy Potato Salad with Anchovy Chimichurri that caught my eye, down in the corner. Chef Tim Byres from Dallas said, "this salad is my gateway dish to anchovy addiction."

I had time to read and discover this recipe last weekend, while I was visiting my parents on their Oregon coast camping trip. They were stopping by for dinner on the way back up home, so I said I'd make it when they were here. Challenge accepted.

A fabulous side dish requires a good entree to headline the act. Also on a relaxing weekend, Matt caught a ton of salmon in the Columbia, so that was the ingredient of choice. First I pulled up a Bobby Flay recipe for grilled salmon. He wanted me to reduce vinegar, chop up a ton of tomatoes and garlic and tomatillos, set it aside, do some more crap with the sauce, use special smoking wood. I had the recipe printed in my car, ready to go in for ingredients when I decided "eff that." Delicious, fresh caught salmon doesn't need a Flay attack of sauces and spices. I popped onto the Epicurious app, holder of all Bon Appetitness, and picked the first simple salmon recipe I came across. Grilled Salmon with Lime Butter. Limes, butter, salt, pepper. Oh, okay, garlic too. Gotta have that. But with that combination, how can you go wrong?

The salmon, as promised, was super-easy. The butter sauce was made in the food processor by emulsifying melted butter with the other ingredients, reserving and drizzling over the completed fish. Planked and left to its own devices on the top rack of the grill, it slowly grew light and flaky, mildly infused with the smokiness of the charring wood. We had enough to feed an advancing army, or at least a ravenous wedding crowd, but we made a pretty good dent on our own. The butter sauce? Decadent without feeling heavy, the bright citrus perked everyone's tastebuds up, and played nice with the potato salad.

The potato salad! A very cheffy dish, I spent about ten times as long with that, but it still wasn't much of a headache. The chimichurri whirred up in the blender, disguising the rogue anchovies in blazing green. The combination of cilantro, parsley, lemon and garlic brought the whole kitchen to life. The potatoes were pan-fried, and while the recipe called for olive oil, I used half-and-half olive oil and vegetable oil. Olive oil has such a low smoke point, it's tough to get a good crispiness on something without burning the oil and funking up the food. I've done that so many times, and just played it off like nothing happened. It did happen. And we have to accept that. The recipe called for sticking a garlic clove and another anchovy fillet in the oil to flavor it for the potatoes, which was a fun little trick. The clove got charred and melty (and was snapped up right away by my dad), and the anchovy disintegrated to become one with the oil, lending its salty, briny afterlife to the pan. They took probably 15 minutes on medium-high heat before they became brown and crispy. They have to be watched and flipped fairly often; you don't want them to char too fast, and you definitely don't want burned potatoes. Raw potatoes, also bad. I've slowly learned not to turn my back on frying potatoes.

To plate, you get fancy by pooling some of the sauce on the bottom, then layering it artfully in between layers of crispy-perfect, thin potatoes. As I said, very cheffy. And if there's one thing I love, it's being all pretentious and cheffy.

Hmm, maybe I'm being a hypocrite with the Andrew Knowlton hate.

I could not get enough of these. I don't think of them as an anchovy dish, but it does have a depth to the saltiness that I figure the 6 fillets can be heartily thanked for. It goes beyond sea salt flakes into a dimension of slight brine savoriness that is caper-olive-anchovy-blue cheese exclusive territory. Combining that with potato, the most salt-loving vegetable there is? Yes, I think I have a new addiction as well.

Both recipes credited to Bon Appetit/Epicurious are below, since I'm dying for you to try them. We rounded out the meal with corn on the cob, and skipped dessert.

Crispy Potato Salad with Anchovy Chimichurri
3/4 cup fresh basil
3/4 cup celery leaves
3/4 cup cilantro
3/4 cup parsley
6 finely chopped anchovy fillets plus 1 additional
1 sliced celery stalk
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus 2 additional
Red pepper flakes
1 tomatillo
4 medium potatoes
1 garlic clove, plus 1 additional for pan
Additional olive oil and vegetable oil for frying

Mix basil, celery leaves, cilantro and parsley with anchovy fillets. Transfer 1/2 of mixture to a medium bowl, add 1 sliced celery stalk, olive oil and lemon juice; reserve for garnish. Puree remaining mixture in a food processor with tomatillo, 1 garlic clove, 2 tbsp lemon juice, a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Season chimichurri with salt.

Cut 4 potatoes into 1/4" slices. Heat olive oil and vegetable oil in large skillet; add potatoes, 1 garlic clove and 1 anchovy fillet. Fry until crispy. Divide potatoes among 4 plates, spoon some chimichurri sauce over, top with garnish, and drizzle with more chimichurri.

Grilled Salmon with Lime Butter Sauce
6 (6-oz) pieces center-cut salmon fillet (about 1 inch thick) with skin
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lime zest
6 tablespoons lime butter sauce
(This is Bon Appetit's instruction. I used a whole salmon fillet and grilled it on a soaked cedar plank. Either way would yield the same succulent result).
Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (moderate heat for gas).
Season salmon all over with salt and pepper, then grill, flesh sides down, on lightly oiled grill rack (covered only if using gas grill) 4 minutes. Turn fillets over and grill (covered only if using gas grill) until just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes more. Sprinkle fillets with zest and top each with 1 tablespoon lime butter sauce.

Lime Butter Sauce
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
Purée garlic with lime juice, salt, and pepper in a blender until smooth. With motor running, add melted butter and blend until emulsified, about 30 seconds.