Saturday, November 14, 2015

Orange and Pistachio Sandwich Cookies with Mascarpone Cream

Over the summer I decided to treat myself to a cooking class, sort of like a graduation present to myself. I had several classes in mind, but I settled on "Cooking Without a Recipe". My confidence in throwing together a meal from whatever ingredients are around has improved over the last couple of years, but I still felt that I could benefit from a class on flavor pairings and techniques. It was an all-day class, with a demo in the morning and then cooking in groups after lunch. For some reason, I thought a few hours of watching someone else cook might get boring, but it was awesome. Food Network live, but you get to eat the food.

We were in groups of three for the afternoon session. We were handed a list of ingredients and told to sketch out a menu (we did three courses). At first, I had really wanted to work with meat, because I feel that that's a weakness of mine, but I was itching to bake that day. I saw oranges and almonds on the list, which reminded me that I wanted to try that combination with a basic slice-and-bake recipe. I almost went for it, but then I saw pistachios. I knew oranges and pistachios were a classic combination, although I don't think I'd ever had it. In my "flavor imagination"*, it seemed like a combination that could elevate a plain sugar cookie to a fancier dessert. Then I saw the mascarpone, without much conscious thought, I decided these would be sandwich cookies with mascarpone cream.

Near the end of the class, we served our food to the instructors, and then each other (both within and among our groups). My cookies were really well received, which made me proud. I'd never made mascarpone cream before, nor had I ever put my own twist on a basic recipe. But what really made my day was that the instructor (a professional chef), called them "phenomenal". I have no desire to go into cooking/baking as a career, but it was still gratifying to hear someone tell me that I'm good at it.

I hope you enjoy these as much as my instructor did!

* I sincerely hope someone out there has come up with a better term than "flavor imagination".

Orange and Pistachio Sandwich Cookies with Mascarpone Cream
Yield: A ton of cookies. Maybe about 30-40 sandwich cookies - I honestly didn't count.

For the cookies:
1 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T orange zest
2 T finely chopped pistachios (from about two heaping tbsp whole pistachios)

For the filling:
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2 T finely chopped pistachios
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp orange zest
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. In a mixer, a food processor with a dough blade, or by hand, cream the butter and sugar.
  3. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add this to the wet ingredients and mix until well blended.
  5. Mix in 1 T orange zest and 2 T pistachios.
  6. Scoop dough by the teaspoonful onto cookie sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  7. While the cookies cool, mix together all of the filling ingredients.
  8. Once the cookies have cooled completely, spread some filling on the bottoms of half of the cookies, and then top it with another cookie.
  1. Depending on how much filling you put on each cookie, you may run a little short on the filling. I prefer these with a small amount of filling because otherwise I find that the cream overpowers the orange flavor in the cookie. But if you fill them with more cream, the leftover cookies that don't get cream are still delicious.
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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Whole Wheat English Muffins

For someone who adores baking bread and making homemade versions of things you'd normally get at the grocery store, homemade English muffins should have been a no-brainer. And yet somehow, it took a couple of years and the accumulation of three recipes before I got around to it. Yes, I was busy being educated and whatever, but I never let that stop me before. A couple of weeks ago, though, I finally got the bug and spent a nice weekend morning making the most delicious English muffins I had ever had, by several orders of magnitude. The kicker is that for some reason, I was surprised. I knew they'd be good, better than store-bought, but they were so good. I didn't even toast them after I split them, but ate three in rapid succession with just a smear of butter. My plans for a fancy English muffin egg sandwich went right out the window. Why would anyone ruin this heavenly perfection with eggs and bacon? (You know I'm serious when I say that bacon would not be an improvement).

I decided to use a whole wheat recipe I found over at the New York Times Cooking section, since I had recently bought some white whole wheat flour and was eager to see if I liked its milder wheat flavor (regular whole wheat flour is a bit much for me). Fortunately, NYT Cooking recently enabled comments, so I was able to avoid what would have been gargantuan English muffins (I know, a near-tragedy) and was also advised to cook them a bit longer than the recipe specified. In my version, I've tried to reflect these changes and clarify where I could. I also doubled the recipe because 8 muffins is not enough, not when reheated-from-frozen ones taste freshly baked. Enjoy.

Whole Wheat English Muffins
Yield: About 16 muffins
Adapted from Melissa Clark at NYT Cooking

4 tsp (1 tbsp + 1 tsp) active dry yeast
4 tbsp butter, melted, plus about that much for the skillet
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup warm milk1
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt
2 cups whole wheat flour2
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
Cornmeal, for dusting

  1. In a small bowl or liquid measure, combine the yeast and 2/3 cup of warm water. Let stand 5-10 minutes, until yeast has dissolved and is foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, yogurt, milk, honey, salt, and yeast mixture.
  3. Add both flours and baking soda and mix until well combined. It will look more like batter than dough at this point. Set aside, covered with a towel or some plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1-1.5 hours, until doubled. The batter will start to more closely resemble a loose, sticky dough as it rises.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and dust two large baking sheets with cornmeal.
  5. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet (I love cast iron here) over medium heat, until the butter has been melted for a couple of minutes.
  6. Plop rounded 1/4-cupsful of the batter/dough into the skillet and gently tease into into a roughly circular shape with a relatively flat top3. Make sure you leave them a little room, which will help you when flipping.
  7. Cover the skillet with a lid or baking sheet (honestly, by the last couple of batches, I didn't even bother with this step and didn't notice a difference), and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the muffins are browned on the bottom.
  8. Flip and cook another 2-4 minutes, until browned on the other side, then transfer to the prepared baking sheets. If you notice that the muffins start browning too quickly, as I did, turn down the heat a bit4.
  9. Repeat this process with more butter (as needed) and more dough, until you have a full sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until the muffins are totally cooked through (I found 10 minutes to be just right, and split the fattest one to check if it was cooked through).
  10. At this point, you can must eat one right away, or you can let them cool completely and freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, they can be transferred to a ziploc bag. To eat, reheat in the oven (if frozen), then fork split and toast (or not). Spread with some butter and enjoy.

  1. I normally brazenly ignore instructions like this. However, it's important to keep the milk warm so it doesn't force the butter to congeal. Ideally, the yogurt would be at room temperature, but they cancel each other out well enough that the butter stays liquid.
  2. I used white whole wheat flour here, since I had read it has a milder wheat flavor. They were delicious, but I'm sure they'd be great with regular WW flour, too. I wouldn't, however, recommend using all WW flour here, because it tends to be denser than AP flour.
  3. Note the qualifiers here. They're going to be lumpy and weirdly shaped, but no one is going to care because they will be too busy weeping at their flavor.
  4. Even if they look burnt (see my photo...), they don't really have a burnt taste. In fact, they're quite delicious. I suspect mine may have browned quickly because cast iron retains heat so well. If you're using stainless steel, nonstick, or aluminum, this may not be an issue.
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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bacon Cheddar Tater Tots

Today, I make good on a promise I made a couple of weeks ago, and boy am I glad that I held myself to that promise. I don't know how/when I had the idea for these, but it was likely one of the more brilliant thoughts I've had in the last few months. These sort of evolved as I was making them. First, I decided that I wanted to make a big batch to have a homemade version of frozen, ready-to-bake tater tots. I've been trying to make meals and snacks to freeze, but not of the frozen-mystery-vegetable-casserole variety. I've made some pizza, now these tater tots, and hopefully soon some dumplings and/or pierogis. It'll be a nice way to avoid eating either fast food or cereal on nights when I get home late.

I was watching Iron Chef as I made these (it's amazing how quickly I cook when vicariously afflicted with the anxiety of chefs who are asked to make 5 dishes in one hour), and as I was grating the cheese, I heard someone say "chives" and realized that I had a whole lovely chive plant just waiting for me to make use of it. So I threw some of those in and then realized I had basically created a baked potato in tater tot form (baked potater tots? Not my best). I also ended up going a bit heavy-handed when I was forming the tots, so they took a while to bake. No complaints on my part; my apartment smelled delicious.

The best thing about these is that they're homemade, which obviously means they're healthier, right? Feel free to serve yourself a double serving.

Bacon Cheddar Tater Tots
Yield: About two half-sheet pans' worth (~60 large tater tots)

2 lb red potatoes, scrubbed
5-6 slices of bacon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (~2.5 oz) grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp minced chives
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp flour, as needed

  1. Pierce the potatoes several times with a fork and roast on a baking sheet at 400 F until easily pierced but not mushy.
  2. While the potatoes cook, chop the bacon and cook over medium-low to medium heat until crispy. Set aside to cool somewhat. Now is a good time to prep the rest of the ingredients (mince the garlic and chives, and shred the cheese).
  3. A few minutes before the potatoes are done (or once you remove them from the oven, if you didn't time it right - no big deal), prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Plunge the potatoes in the ice bath, changing the water/ice as needed. You really want to make sure the potatoes are fully cooled before mixing everything. I did the first batch of these with warm potatoes, and they were super sticky. Of course, this didn't help them stick to each other to form tots, just to stick to my hands. For smaller potatoes, the ice bath will probably be enough to cool them. If you have large potatoes, like I did, keep them in the ice bath for a while, then shred them and allow to finish cooling1.
  4. Turn the heat up to 425 F. Shred the potatoes2 (no need to peel unless you're picky about that) on the large holes of a cheese grater, and combine in a large bowl with bacon, garlic, cheese, and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remember that bacon is very salty and your cheese may be as well, so taste before salting.
  5. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Form the potato mixture into little nuggets about 1.5 inches long and 3/4-inch tall for large tater tots, or about 1 inch long for regular sized tots, and place on the baking sheet. You don't need to leave much space between them since they won't expand. If you're working with thoroughly cooled potatoes and really can't get them to form properly, you can add up to 1-2 tbsp flour to bind them.
  6. Bake at 425 for about 30-40 minutes (until nicely browned on the outside), flipping halfway through. You may need to adjust your cooking time based on the size of your tater tots, so just use your judgment. There's no raw meat or eggs, so it's largely a function of how crispy you prefer them.
  7. Serve plain or with ketchup (a classic), sour cream (to complete the baked potato theme), or, my favorite, with garlic aioli.
  1. Science fact! Smaller things cool faster than larger things (made of the same material) because they have a higher ratio of surface area to volume. The more surface area you have, the more contact you have with the cooler air, allowing you to lose heat faster. That's why the small potatoes can cool mostly/completely in the ice bath, and also why shredding the larger potato will speed up the process considerably.
  2. If you didn't peel the potatoes, you'll likely end up with most of a potato's worth of skin at the end (it seems to tend to just peel back as you grate). Don't chuck them! Season generously with salt and pepper and fry over medium high heat in the leftover bacon fat. Potato skin chips!
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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Roasted Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

Well, the heat has officially been turned on here and I am back to the fall I remember from growing up (Maryland fall is quite warm). I can't say I'm exactly welcoming it, since I'm already pining forlornly for ripe, juicy stone fruit and sweet, vibrant strawberries, but there are a few things I enjoy about fall. The cooler weather opens up the possibility of soup for lunch, which I love because it's one of the few things I can make in large batches without getting sick of, and it reheats like a dream. I generally dislike leftovers because I often find reheated food to be a sad imitation of its former self. What once was vibrant is muted, crisp turns to mush. Naturally, this makes lunch a challenge. In fact, a lot of the inspiration for this blog so far has been a desire for lunch foods that either do not require heating or stand up well to the microwave. I think this soup will certainly do the trick.

I adore broccoli in all forms, and cheddar is one of my favorite cheeses, making broccoli cheddar soup one of my favorites. However, I dislike that some people purée their soup so there are no (or few) chunks. It doesn't feel like a substantial meal to me without a little chewing. Another gripe I have is that both the broccoli and cheddar flavors can sometimes become watered down once heated and mixed with broth and milk or cream. If you're going to basically eat a bowl of cheese and cream with a few vegetables in it, I think you should really make it worthwhile.  To resolve these issues, I made a number of alterations to the standard picture:
  1. My absolute favorite way to prepare broccoli is to roast the living heck out of it, until it's dark brown and crunchy on top, just a hair away from being burned. If you haven't tried this, go do it. Now. I'll wait. Incorporating this flavor into the soup was a no-brainer, so I roasted the florets and tossed them in at the end. As an added bonus, I got the chunky component I craved.
  2. I learned not too long ago that broccoli stalks are completely edible (duh), and that they cook up nicely if you peel away the tough outer skin. I decided to use the stalks in the more traditional manner. I simmered them in the soup until tender, and they were puréed along with the soup base. In this way I still maintained the creamy, smooth soup base as well as a brighter, fresher broccoli flavor.
  3. To make sure the cheese flavor shone through without using an obscene amount (though no judgment if you go that route), I used extra-sharp cheddar. I actually almost always use extra-sharp cheddar since I like my cheeses pungent, but here I felt it was particularly important.
  4. Finally, I decided to switch up the aromatics a bit. I used far more garlic than most people probably would, and used leeks instead of onions. Nothing against onions, I just thought the leeks really worked here. This actually came about because I happened to have some leeks on hand the first time I made broccoli cheddar soup, and I was concerned that the recipe I was using would be too bland without them (which it most certainly would have).
The leeks also offered me the opportunity to have some fun with garnishes, so I julienned the dark green leaves and fried them in olive oil. That's right, we're using the whole buffalo today*.

This soup does take a little more time than some recipes might and probably generates a few extra dishes, but that makes it a lovely activity for a cold, dreary day like we have today in Ann Arbor. Plus, there's some downtime while the soup simmers, so curl up with a good book (or maybe a few episodes of Good Eats or Iron Chef, which I recently discovered are on Netflix!) and get ready to hibernate until at least April. Sigh.
* Do you think that expression means anything to non-Americans?
Roasted Broccoli and Cheddar Soup
Yield: 4-6 servings

2 medium heads of broccoli, with stalks
Few tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1 medium leek1, white and light green parts cut into thin half-moons, dark green part reserved
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper, optional and to taste
5 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) extra-sharp cheddar, plus a small pile for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 425. Peel the broccoli stalks to reveal the tender green flesh underneath. Slice the stalks into 1/4-1/2-inch disks, and cut each disk into quarters. You should have about 1 3/4 cups of stalks (anything from 1 1/2 to 2 cups should be fine). Chop the rest of the broccoli into little bitty florets.
  2. Toss the broccoli with enough olive oil to coat the florets in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven to roast for 20-25 minutes, until deeply browned and crispy.
  3. While the broccoli cooks, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, toss in the leeks and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the white parts turn translucent. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until the garlic is aromatic but not browned.
  4. Stir in the flour and cook for 4-5 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste. Add the milk and stir for a minute or two, until thickened.
  5. Dump in the broth and stir to combine. The soup may look kind of lumpy and gross at this point, but it'll all sort itself out. Just keep stirring and switch to a whisk if you need.
  6. Bring the soup to a vigorous simmer, then turn down the heat and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  7. Season the soup with salt2, pepper, and cayenne pepper, and add the broccoli stalks. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the broccoli is crisp-tender.
  8. While the soup simmers, julienne one of the dark green leek leaves and heat a tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the leeks and fry until brown and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Set aside to drain on paper towels.
  9. Purée the soup either with an immersion blender or a regular blender and return to the pot over medium heat. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and integrated into the soup.
  10. Stir in the roasted broccoli florets and heat through.
  11. Serve immediately, garnished with a big pinch of cheese and the fried leek greens3.
  1. If we're being totally honest here, I have no idea what sorts of sizes leeks come in. I had a cup of chopped leek, so shoot for something in that vicinity.
  2. You'll need to use your judgment here. I used unsalted broth, and my cheese wasn't super salty. I probably added about 2-2 1/2 tsp salt, but if you're using salted broth and/or salted cheese, adjust accordingly.
  3. I used these as a garnish, as described, but I really liked them and I had plenty more leaves, so I'll probably add more when I eat the rest of the soup.
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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Cookie Crumble

I have a long list in the Notes app on my phone consisting of recipe ideas I'd like to try.  That way, if I am struck by a lightning bolt from the food gods, I can jot down my idea, wherever I am. This list is entirely separate from the massive folder of recipe bookmarks on my computer (8 subsections and counting). Rather than being a list of recipes, these are just idle snippets, sometimes from my food daydreams and sometimes from menu items or things I see on TV. They range from mouthwatering (bacon cheddar tater tots???*) to intriguing (crème brûlée cookies) to bizarre (chicken tikka tacos...) to patently absurd ("zucchini hash browns?"). I'm sure many of them will show up here eventually, this recipe being the first of them. I made oatmeal cookies a while ago and the idea for this came to me while I was staring at the leftovers.

First, cut your apples into thin pieces. It seems that most people are pretty averse to peels in their desserts, so feel free to peel them if that bothers you. I don't mind them, especially since I find the skin has a lot of flavor. As far as apple variety goes, anything will work, but I'm going to make a case for tart apples. I like my apples tart enough to make my face twitch, but even if you generally like sweeter apples, consider something a little on the tart side to counter the considerable sweetness of the cookies. Then pulse a few cookies in a blender or food processor - it's important just to pulse here, and not flat-out blend. The cookies will crumble easily, and you don't want to pulverize them. You could probably even do this part by hand.

Then, mix in some butter, pastry-style. This is the part I definitely like to do by hand**, but you can use a fork, two knives, or a pastry blender. You don't want the butter to completely incorporate, which is why we start with cold butter. You're done when everything is in coarse crumbs.

Finally, pop the apples into a few ramekins or, if you happen to have them, some adorable baby Dutch ovens, and top with the delicious crumbly goodness. It's fine if some of the topping slips under the apples; it will melt and mingle with the apple juices and generally be wonderful. Bake for a half hour, and when it comes out, you'll have a nice, crunchy topping with soft, melty apples underneath. The apples will sink a lot as they release their juices...

leaving just enough room for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

* If you're wondering what could possibly have been so important to stop me from making these, I honestly don't know. Please accept my apologies along with a promise to get going on a recipe.
** Until fairly recently, I had a serious phobia of touching butter. I'm pretty proud of how far I've come in this department.

Apple Crisp with Oatmeal Cookie Crumble
Yield: 2 larger or 4 smaller servings

1 large or 2 smaller apples (my apple was about 9 oz)
4 leftover oatmeal cookies1
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches ground nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
Coarse or flaky sea salt (optional)

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Peel the apple(s), if desired, and then core and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.
  2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the oatmeal cookies until no large pieces remain. This should only take a few pulses, at most, so try not to overdo it. The pieces will probably vary in size a bit, which is fine.
  3. Move the cookies to a small bowl and add the butter. With your favorite tool for the job (hands are good!), mix in the butter until it is in small pieces (the usual suggestion is "pea-sized" pieces) and the mixture looks like chunky crumbs. Mix in the spices and salt.
  4. Divide the apples evenly between four 6-oz or two 12-oz ramekins or small baking dishes (I used my beloved tiny Dutch ovens) and do the same with the crumble.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, covering during the last 10 minutes if you prefer a softer topping. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve (preferably with ice cream).
  1. My cookies were about 2.5-3 inches in diameter.
  2. As mentioned above, keep in mind the sweetness of the cookies you're using and adjust your salt and the type of apple accordingly.
  3. I used leftover cookies because I thought fresh cookies would be too soft and wouldn't make very good crumble material. I haven't actually tried this with fresh cookies though, so feel free to experiment.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Burrito Bowls

There was one day when I was at Maryland that I had almost no food left except chicken, rice, an avocado, a tomato, a bit of corn, onions, sour cream, and some cheese. We must have been close to a break or something, so I was down to my last bit of food. I think it was fate, and I heeded the sign and made some burrito bowls. I knew they'd be good because it's hard to go wrong with those ingredients, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I found myself wanting leftovers, which is rare. I normally hate leftovers. Food is just so much less exciting the second time around. Something is lost when you reheat it. But I digress.

I love this recipe because it's barely even a recipe. Don't have tomatoes? No problem. Pinto beans? Chuck 'em in there. Just about anything goes. The way I usually make it does have a lot of steps, but I promise none of them are difficult, and it's so worth it. Ready to go? Grab whatever vaguely burrito-related ingredients you have, and start with the rice first.

Then thinly slice your onions. We want to maximize surface area here because we're going to caramelize these. As I learned in the cooking class I went to this summer, when you caramelize, you should be starting with a cold pan, cold vegetables, and cold fat. Caramelization is a gradual process, so you want to heat things slowly.

Eventually, your corn and onions will get nice and browned, and they'll be ready to go. While that's all cooking, cook and shred your chicken, whip up a quick guacamole, drain and rinse your beans, and mix up your sour cream.

 Dig in.

Not pictured: the beans that I drained and forgot to put in my bowl. Alas.

Burrito Bowls
Yield: 3-4 servings

1 cup uncooked rice (I used brown)
A few tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breasts, sliced in half parallel to the cutting board
1.5-2 tsp cumin, divided and to taste
Salt & pepper
2 avocados
1 vine ripened tomato1
1 lemon quarter

1 15 oz. can black beans
For serving (optional): shredded Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese, cumin-lime sour cream (recipe follows), thinly sliced scallion greens

  1. Cook the rice according to pack directions.
  2. While the rice cooks, cut the onion in half lengthwise through the root end. Thinly slice the onion crosswise.
  3. Add about a tbsp of olive oil, the onion, and the corn to a wide skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring infrequently, until the vegetables start to brown. Season with salt and pepper and add most of the garlic. Continue cooking until the onions are deep brown and the corn has gained some color. Set aside in a bowl.
  4. After putting the onions on the heat, season the chicken with the cumin, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
  5. When the onions are done cooking, place the pan back on medium heat with another tbsp of olive oil2.  Once it's hot, add the chicken and cook, turning once, until cooked through.
  6. Mash the avocado and cut the tomato into small dice. Mix together with the juice of the lemon quarter, the remaining garlic, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
  7. Drain and rinse the beans, and set aside.
  8. Shred the chicken and assemble bowls, garnishing as desired.
Cumin-Lime Sour Cream:
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1 lime3
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 tsp cumin
Pinch of salt

Zest and juice the lime. Mix the juice and a pinch of zest with the sour cream, cumin, and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings.

  1. You can use any variety of tomato you'd like. I included this just to give a rough estimate of quantity.
  2. Yes, you should probably wipe out the pan first. That really just felt like too much work, though.
  3. Years ago, my mom taught me that the secret to finding juicy citrus is to choose fruits that are heavy for their size (thanks, Mom!). Roll the lime between the palm of your hand and the counter before cutting and juicing to make juicing (much) easier.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Pizza (or, Allison Loses it at the Farmers Market)

Because I've only been here for a little over a month, I've been getting a lot of, "So, how do you like Ann Arbor?" lately. I love it, and there are a lot of reasons why. But I can't stop gushing about the farmers markets. There is at least one every day except Monday and Tuesday! And these are no puny affairs, either. I visited the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, which is held twice a week during the warmer months and continues once a week during the winter, on Saturday. This market is essentially a weekly community event, with a semi-permanent market space (it's covered, so you can happily browse the tables in most weather conditions), and at least 20 tables, probably closer to 25 or 30. I wish I had brought my camera, but as it turns out, I needed every inch of space I had in my bag (and then some). I had absolutely no fresh produce aside from a few potatoes, so I was prepared to stock up. However, the sight of all of the tables overflowing (literally) with late summer produce was so overwhelming that I did a lap of most of the tables, just admiring, before I even bought anything. I wanted all of it, but I:
  1. Don't have infinite money,
  2. Couldn't possibly carry everything back on the bus, and
  3. Would have to consume several tens of pounds of produce each day to eat it all before it started to rot.

In the end, I more or less stuck to my list. However, I couldn't pass up the 11.5 pounds of tomatoes I ended up with, rather than purchasing the 5 pounds I had planned to buy for sauce (11.5 lb for $8! Could anyone pass up a deal like that?). These tomatoes were "seconds", or produce deemed too ugly to be displayed on the table. For a big batch of sauce, though, they were just perfect. I had been planning to make a large batch of sauce to freeze for the sad, long winter full of nothing but underripe tomatoes, anyway, so I took this as a sign.

Finally, with a full bag out of which poked a bunch of scallions, plus an enormous carton of tomatoes, I headed back to the bus to bring home my treasures. Among these was a bag of Brussels sprouts, not terribly aesthetically pleasing, but very fresh. I absolutely adore Brussels sprouts. I recently read that there is a gene that dictates whether Brussels sprouts taste unpleasantly bitter, and I know that I must have the favorable version of that gene. In fact, one of my favorite ways to eat Brussels sprouts is simply roasted with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, letting their flavor shine through. One day, looking to change things up a bit, I shaved the sprouts and added them to a pizza with cheese and bacon, and I knew I'd found a winner. Everyone knows Brussels sprouts and bacon are a great combination, so how could combining that with cheese and bread be anything but perfect? And a perfect tribute to the end of summer it was, seated out on my balcony in the (admittedly humid) summer evening air.
Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Pizza
Yield: 2 12-inch-diameter pizzas, 3-4 servings
Dough adapted from Jim Lahey via smitten kitchen

For the no-knead pizza dough
3 cups flour (all-purpose or bread), spooned and leveled
Heaping 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1.5 tsp coarse (e.g., sea or kosher) salt
1.25 cups water
Cornmeal, for dusting
For the toppings
6 oz Brussels sprouts
A few tsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Two handfuls shredded Parmesan cheese
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

  1. Start the dough: dump all dough ingredients into a large bowl and mix together. The dough will look like a total mess, which is just fine. If the dough seems very dry, add another tablespoon or two of water.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 12 hours (the dough is pretty forgiving, so don't get crazy about this. Leaving it for another few hours won't hurt).
  3. About a half hour or so before the dough is done rising, place a pizza stone (if you've got one) in the oven and preheat to its highest (non-broiler) temperature. If you don't have a stone, preheat your oven anyway and throw a baking sheet in there for the last 10 minutes of preheating (you should let your oven heat for at least 20 minutes or so to get the best crust).
  4. Halve the Brussels sprouts lengthwise, leaving the root end intact. Cut the sprouts crosswise (parallel to the root end) into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl and drizzle very lightly with olive oil, so the ribbons are coated but there is little (if any) oil in the bottom of the bowl. Season generously with sea salt (or kosher or table salt) and pepper. Now is also a good time to cook your bacon.
  5. Film a pizza peel, an unrimmed baking sheet, or the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, and dust very generously with cornmeal. Seriously, don't be stingy with the cornmeal or you'll be kicking yourself in a few minutes (not that I'd know from personal experience, or anything).
  6. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter and separate into two balls. Grab one of the balls and let it stretch down from your hand to the counter a few times (or a several times, if you're strangely mesmerized by the look and feel of this process).
  7. Place the dough on your prepared pizza peel or baking sheet and gently stretch into a round. The dough should be a little more substantial than it was when you first mixed it, but it will still be soft and somewhat sticky. Just do the best you can to stretch it out and repair any tears in the dough.
  8. Brush with a small drizzle of olive oil, and cover with the mozzarella, leaving a small rim for the crust.
  9. Layer on the Brussels sprouts and finish with a healthy sprinkle of Parmesan. Shimmy the pizza as, uh, gracefully as you can onto your stone or baking sheet 2 , and bake for 8-10 minutes, until cheese and tips of Brussels sprouts are browned, and the crust is golden brown.
  10. Sprinkle with bacon, let cool for as long as you possibly can (this was approximately 30 seconds for me, the roof of my mouth be damned), slice, and serve. Repeat from step 5 with the remaining ball of dough.
  1. Because it's just me here, I only made one pizza and refrigerated the other ball of dough. The dough should keep for a few days in the fridge, or you can freeze it and thaw in the refrigerator before using. Because I essentially halved the recipe, don't be alarmed if my ingredient piles look much smaller than yours.
  2. A little kitchen wisdom: brush off as much excess cornmeal as you can from around the uncooked pizza; this will quickly burn if it gets shimmied onto the stone and cause you to panic a few minutes into baking that your pizza is burning. However, if this happens, it won't affect the quality of your pizza.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

(Accidental) Additive-Free Drinkable Strawberry Yogurt

Does anyone else remember drinkable yogurt? It was healthy snacking for the truly lazy (no spoon to wash!). I thought of drinkable yogurt the other day for the first time in years, as I was trying to come up with more exciting healthy snack options than just eating fruit all day long. Don't get me wrong, I love fruit. But it's necessary to spice things up sometimes. In an effort to curb migraines and just generally be healthy, I've been trying to minimize the amount of processed food that I eat (we migraine people also need to eat regularly, hence all the snacks - or at least that's what I tell myself and others). In keeping with that, I use plain yogurt in my smoothies, since it generally has little to no extra stuff thrown in. I figured I'd just mix in whatever I wanted to make a non-smoothie snack out of it.

I had initially intended to make strawberry yogurt of the regular, eat-with-a-spoon variety to satisfy these snack cravings. However, when I went to defrost the strawberries I had in my freezer (that's why my strawberries look a bit mushy; they tasted just fine), I couldn't bear to let all the beautiful strawberry drippings that would seep out go to waste, so I set them in a strainer over a bowl. Demonstrating the brilliance I am known for (they don't let just anybody into PhD programs these days!), I dumped this juice right into the blender with the strawberries and plain yogurt, patting myself on the back for the flavor boost this would lend the yogurt. What I didn't stop to consider was the effect this would have on the texture, and so I ended up with the drinkable yogurt about which I had been reminiscing just days earlier.

How cool does this look?!

I'm planning to go to the farmer's market this weekend (last free weekend before classes...sigh), so if they still have strawberries, perhaps you'll get your strawberry yogurt post. In the meantime, I have no regrets about this unintentional blast-from-the-past snack.

Additive-Free Drinkable Strawberry Yogurt
Yield: Approx. 16 oz. (1-2 servings)

12 oz frozen strawberries
6 oz plain yogurt1

  1. Set strawberries in a mesh strainer or colander over a bowl and let thaw for a few hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Place the strawberries, with their juices, in a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and blend until smooth.
  1. I used whole milk yogurt. You may want to use a little less if you are using yogurt with a lower fat content, since those tend to be runnier. On the other hand, you can probably substitute one-for-one and be just fine, since the yogurt is intended to be drinkable anyway.
  2. This would work for any other berry (and probably most other types of fruit, so long as they have a relatively high water content). You may need to add a bit of sweetener if using something more tart like raspberries (same goes if your strawberries happen to be less sweet than mine).
  3. You could also freeze this in ice pop molds or ice cube trays for ice pops or quick additions to smoothies!
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Caprese Sandwiches with Carrot Top Pesto

I've recently been trying to be more conscious of how much food I waste, so I've been reading a lot about inventive ways to use scraps, bits of produce that would normally go in the garbage or the compost bin, etc. We waste an unbelievable amount of food in the U.S., and I'm definitely guilty of contributing to that, especially when I buy an ingredient for a specific dish and don't know what to do with the rest of the jar/bottle/etc. Eventually I'd like to start a page here where I can list tips I've found for reducing food waste, but in the meantime, I'll share this carrot top pesto recipe.

Did you know you could eat carrot tops? I had always subconsciously assumed that they were either inedible or unpleasant in taste, but not too long ago, I read about using them in salads or in place of herbs, which is where I saw the idea for carrot top pesto. Last time I went grocery shopping, I made sure my carrots still had their tops so I could try this out. First, I twisted off the carrot tops near the base where they meet the carrot, and gave them a good rinse. I then dried them on paper towels and removed the leaves from the stems once they were dry (I did discard the stems, since I don't have anywhere to compost, but I plan to do some poking around to see if there's anything else to do with those). I stored the tops the same way I store herbs: I folded them into a paper towel and sealed them in a ziploc bag.

After that, you're ready to go! The original author of this recipe blanched the carrot tops before making the pesto, but by the time I got around to making this I had forgotten about that step (it's not written explicitly in the original recipe). Mine tasted just fine, but blanching them may help to tone down the flavor of the greens. My suggestion would be to nibble on a bit of carrot top and see what you think! I did, and was surprised to find that they actually taste a lot like carrots (why this was surprising to me, I'm not sure). If you'd like a more muted flavor, go ahead and blanch them for a minute or two in boiling water, then revive under cold water and make the pesto. I swapped out the pine nuts in the original for sunflower seeds*, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the sunflower seed flavor really shone through. If that's not your thing, feel free to use another nut (e.g., the original pine nuts, or I think almonds would be great, too) or use a smaller amount of the sunflower seeds.

A final note on texture: mine turned out thick and very smooth, which I believe is because I balked at the amount of olive oil required (not because I think the flavor would be bad, but because I'm a grad student and olive oil is expensive - in my defense, I was making a double batch). I ended up using a fair bit less, and compensated by blending the absolute you-know-what out of it in my Ninja (the pesto was actually quite warm to the touch by the time I was done). If you have something a little less powerful, I'd suggest using the full amount of olive oil. You'll likely end up with something closer in texture to normal pesto.

Dramatic shot of the Sun rising on a loaf of bread

I chose to make some bread and put this on a sandwich to use up some of the fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes I had lying around, but feel free to use this anywhere you'd normally use pesto! Just please promise me that if you're making the sandwich and you don't have any tomatoes lying around already, go get some beautiful heirlooms while they're still in season. And one more request, if I may: if you aren't making this to take to work for lunch like I was, please put it in a panini press, or at least cook it grilled cheese style. Melty cheese > non-melty cheese any time.

* In truth, I made this substitution because I didn't have pine nuts, but I had plenty of sunflower seeds lying around.

Caprese Sandwiches with Carrot Top Pesto
Yield: Approx. 1 cup of pesto and 2 sandwiches
Adapted from Diane Morgan

Carrot Top Pesto
1 c carrot greens (I got about 2 cups from my bunch of carrots)
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 large garlic clove
1/4 tsp kosher or other coarse salt (if using salted sunflower seeds, use less and adjust to taste)
3 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1/4 c freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano1
Caprese Sandwich
4 slices of good quality, fresh bread (I made my own, and the slices were probably a little smaller than regular sandwich bread)
4 Tbsp carrot top pesto
2-3 slices mozzarella cheese
10-12 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced (or a few slices of heirloom or other large tomato)

  1. Pulverize the carrot greens, olive oil, garlic clove, and salt in a food processor or blender until everything is uniformly minced.
  2. Add the sunflower seeds to the mix and pulse until they are finely ground2.
  3. Dump in the parmesan and process until the cheese is ground up and everything comes together.
  4. Spread 1 Tbsp pesto on each slice of bread. On two of the slices, pile mozzarella and tomatoes, topping with the other two slices of bread.
  5. Enjoy!
  1. You can use any type of parmesan, but the nuttiness of Parmagiano Reggiano is really good here.
  2. Tailor how long you process the pesto to the texture you're looking for. For a more traditional pesto texture with small but visible chunks of nuts and cheese, pulse a few times, just until the seeds are broken up. For a smoother texture (see pictures above), blend more thoroughly.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Charred Cauliflower Bowl

Often, when I tell people I love to cook, they ask me, "What's your favorite thing to cook?" I suppose they're just making conversation, but I never really know how to answer a question like that. Are they looking for a specific dish, or maybe a general category like "chicken"? Either way, I don't have a favorite thing to cook. What I love about cooking is that there is always something new to try, so I rarely repeat recipes more than once or twice (except for a few staples).

That being said, there are some ingredients that I just can't get enough of, one of which is cauliflower. Weird, I know, but in my defense, I'm writing a blog purely devoted to food. I should be allowed a few bizarre food obsessions. On my first grocery trip to my beautiful new grocery store, I found a lovely head of purple cauliflower. I knew I wanted to do something fun with it, and I got my opportunity a few days later when I was assessing my lunch options.

Toss the cauliflower florets with a little olive oil, then dump them into a searing hot pan set over medium-high heat. It may smoke a bit, but if it becomes excessive, take the pan off the heat, lower the temperature, and stir the cauliflower while you wait for the burner to cool down. If the smoking becomes really excessive, perhaps (ahem) because you didn't read your own recipe notes from the first time you made this and used high heat instead, run frantically with your pan to open the window, only to remember that you have a balcony, for God's sake. Proceed out to the balcony and try to look casual while you stir your smoking pan of cauliflower in the dark (because of course you're making this at 10 pm for tomorrow's lunch) *. And don't forget to partially support the heavy pan with your wooden spoon, giving it some nice burn marks.

Charred spoon, charred cauliflower.

Ah, well. Luckily the dish wasn't ruined. I considered waiting to make a different post in which I didn't screw up my own recipe, but I decided that would really just be misrepresenting myself. Last night was a typical occurrence in the FFF kitchen.

If you've managed to not smoke the living daylights out of your pan, return it to medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil and fry up some scallion bits until they're crispy (I cut mine on a bias because I was feeling ~fancy~). Toss everything in a bowl with some cilantro, sunflower seeds, and lemon juice, and there's lunch!

*There are no photos of this part, for hopefully obvious reasons.

Charred Cauliflower Bowl with Crispy Fried Scallions
Yield: 1 serving
Inspired by smitten kitchen

Approx. 9 oz cauliflower florets (any color)
2.5 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 scallion
1-2 sprigs cilantro, anywhere from roughly chopped to finely minced 1,2
1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice (from 1/4-1/2 of a lemon), to taste 2
1/4 c sunflower seeds 2,3
Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat a (preferably heavy-bottomed) pan over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, toss cauliflower florets in a large bowl with 1.5 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Once the pan is very hot (a drop of water will sizzle in it), dump in the cauliflower florets. Let them char, stirring only occasionally, until they've got some black spots. This will probably take about 5-7 minutes, but it can vary a lot depending on the type of pan.
  3. While the cauliflower does its thing, slice the scallion on a bias, separating the white and light green parts from the dark green parts.
  4. Transfer the cooked cauliflower back to the bowl, adding the cilantro, dark green scallion parts, lemon juice, sunflower seeds,  and more salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings/lemon juice as needed.
  5. Return the pan to medium-high heat with the remaining tbsp of olive oil. Add the light scallion parts and cook, stirring constantly, for 30-60 seconds, until the scallions are brown and crispy.
  6. Drain scallions on a paper towel, then add to the bowl with the cauliflower and toss.
  1. Chop the cilantro very roughly, or even leave whole, if you want a bold, herby bite. Mince it more finely if you'd like it more integrated with the other flavors. I went for somewhere in between, leaning toward minced.
  2. This recipe has an almost endless capacity for variation. Some ideas to get you started: use mint instead of cilantro, swap out the lemon juice for lime juice, or use pine nuts instead of sunflower seeds. You could try adding a Middle Eastern flair with some za'atar and pine nuts instead of cilantro and sunflower seeds. If you go that route, you could also throw in a handful of fresh parsley and use a basic tahini dressing instead of the lemon juice. Another option would be to turn this into a grain bowl, adding couscous or quinoa, for example.
  3. I didn't use these the first time, hence their absence in the first picture. The second time around, I used a palmful, but next time I'd definitely add a whole 1/4 cup, as written here. Feel free to use roasted or raw, salted or unsalted (just adjust the amount of salt accordingly).
  4. The first time I made this, I ate it warm. This time around, I just took it from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes so that it wasn't too cold. Both ways were delicious! If you're going to eat it at a later time, though, I'd suggest reserving some of the salt to sprinkle on shortly before eating. Otherwise it sort of gets absorbed and you may find yourself wanting more.
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