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A couple of you (hi Lee! hi Kate!) have requested  that I share how to cook an artichoke and I am happy to comply because it means eating another artichoke! Woo!

When I was a kid, artichokes were a Treat Food. You have these, right? Something that your parents would make or buy very occasionally, usually for some special circumstance. And because of the rare, special nature of these foods, they became, perhaps forever, a Treat.

It’s funny to think back on the Treat Foods of my childhood:

  • “Real” Coca Cola: This was something that we only got when we were home sick. It was usually served warm and flat, to settle the stomach. (Is any of this even based in any sort of physiological reality? Who knows!) For a long time after I was living on my own, I’d order Coke at a restaurant because of that special thrill it gave me, of having something normally forbidden.
  • “Real” Sprite/7Up: With exception of the aforementioned Sick Days Coke, my parents didn’t keep full-sugar soda on hand. So on the very rare occasions I got to go out to dinner, I’d order a Shirley Temple. Oh man, was that a special treat! Sugar swirled with sugar topped with sugar disguised as a fruit! YUM.
  • Lobster Tail: I mean, even NOW that I am a grown-up who can buy Coke and artichokes any damn time she wants to, lobster tails remain very oooh-la-la. Once in a blue moon, my parents would order lobster tails from Omaha Steaks or one of those other mail order companies and we’d have them for dinner. My mom prepared lobster tails for my junior prom — and we even got to eat them in the Fancy Dining Room! — which made the evening even more special.
  • Cracklin’ Oat Bran: As a kid, the only cereals my parents would buy on the regular were Rice Krispies or Shredded Wheat – and we’re talking the big hay bale type of Shredded Wheat, not Frosted Mini Wheats. Once in a while, they’d bend the rules and buy a treasured box of Frosted Flakes or Kix. Mayyyybe some Corn Pops. Oh, how I longed for all the sugary, kid-friendly cereals advertised on Saturday morning in between episodes of DuckTales  and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  (heroes in a half shell, turtle power) (why is it that I can completely forget to take Carla to her weekly ballet lesson, but I have the entire lyrics of this cartoon theme song firmly locked into my brain?). Cocoa Puffs, Trix, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, From Loops, Cookie Crisp, Golden Grahams — they all sounded so decadent and magical! But no. Those cereals were not permitted in our home. Instead, to prevent us from growing bored of Rice Krispies and Shredded Wheat — though I can assure you the boredom was instantaneous — sometimes my parents would buy a box of Grape-Nuts or Raisin Bran. (I’d rather choke down a pillow of dry Shredded Wheat than eat a raisin.) However, possibly because the name makes it sound much more respectable than it is, they would occasionally be persuaded to buy a box of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Which is DELICIOUS. I bought a box for Carla the other day and told her it tasted like cookies. Which is 100% true.
  • Crab Rangoon: I totally get why these were a Treat Food: they are SUPER hard to make. My mother would make her own – make the filling, fill the wonton wrappers, fry them in oil on the back porch — and we’d have them on very special occasions. She would even make a plum sauce to dip them in. Oh man were they tasty. Whenever I see them on the menu somewhere, I order them because they are still so reminiscent of Special Times.

Anyway. Artichokes were on the list of Treat Foods, too. My mom would steam them and then serve them with tiny cups of butter for dipping. They seemed daunting, when I was a kid. Finding them was tricky. In our rural northern town, they weren’t available very often. And when they were, I imagine they cost a pretty penny. Plus, after you ate all the delicious leaves, you had to deal with the choke. YUCK. I was so disturbed by the choke that I never ate the heart – which, it turns out, is the BEST PART. Well. I know better now.

Living in a Major City now, in a day and setting where you can get anything at anytime, it is much easier to get my hand on artichokes. And I’ve discovered a very easy way to make them. And they are DELICIOUS.

Artichoke 2 8

I will tell you that they aren’t quick. Prepping them takes maybe… five minutes. But you have to cook them for 30 minutes, so they require planning ahead.

Here’s how you do it.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a large cookie sheet with foil or a Silpat or whatever.

Artichoke 1

Trim your artichoke stem. You can absolutely eat the stem of the artichoke, although it can get pretty tough after cooking so long. So I like to cut it to about an inch or so in length. (Stem not pictured above.)

Wash your artichoke. I use a veggie spray that may or may not do anything, but it makes me FEEL like I’m cleaning my veggies more thoroughly than with plain old water.

Veggie spray

(I used to use a different kind of veggie spray, which is cheaper on Amazon and gets better reviews, but I can’t find it anymore at my local grocery store. And I like how the Rebel Green seems like actual soap. Which I acknowledge may be a turnoff for others.)

Trim your artichoke leaves. Some websites say to cut the top quarter or so of your artichoke off, and you can definitely do that. Or you can use kitchen shears and snip off the sharp end of every leaf. Or you can come to my grocery store where someone does it for you.

Cut your artichoke in half vertically.  You’ll need a nice big knife for this.

Artichoke 2 1

Remove the choke. The choke is the fuzzy part in the middle. I use a big spoon to scoop it out, and then I rinse the artichoke to get any bits of fuzz out. It’s okay if you throw away some of the inner leaves, too – they are hard to eat because they are so small. The heart of your artichoke will discolor almost immediately once you remove the choke. I’ve tried rubbing it briskly with a cut lemon, but that doesn’t really help. And you’re going to roast it so it will turn nice and brown anyway.

 

Use a pastry brush to apply olive oil to your artichoke. I use about a tablespoon, and add it to all sides. Then sprinkle both sides liberally with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. You can squeeze a lemon into the inside of your artichoke too, if you please. Or even nestle a slice of lemon inside the empty space where the choke was, but it’s totally up to you; it doesn’t make a huge difference, taste-wise.

Put your artichoke halves on your prepared cookie sheet, cut side down. Roast for 30 minutes. You’ll know that your artichoke is done when you can pull one of the outer leaves and it comes off easily. (Choose a leaf from the bottom third of your artichoke, but not one closest to the stem. They don’t pull off easily, and the artichoke will be hot, and you’ll burn your fingers and also incorrectly assume the artichoke isn’t done cooking.)

Artichoke 2 5

While your artichoke is cooking, make a dipping sauce. I like lemon juice plus melted butter (1 Tbsp melted butter, zest and juice of half a lemon), or lemon juice plus Greek yogurt (2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt, zest and juice of half lemon or more to taste). I usually add salt and minced garlic to both sauces, and sometimes paprika to the yogurt. A chipotle yogurt mixture would also be delicious.

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You eat an artichoke in a Leaves First fashion, scraping your teeth against the bottom part of the leaf to remove the meat. As you get deeper into the artichoke, the leaves have more meat until sometimes you’re eating half to three-quarters of the leaf itself.

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The heart is the best part. In the picture, I am eating it with a knife and fork like a proper human. In reality, I often leave the heart in one piece and dunk it in the sauce with my bare hands. Decadent!

Enjoy!

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Thank you all for your kind words on my last post. It’s so easy for that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness to spread until it’s stained every bit of me with self-loathing. I seriously never thought to consider my attempts to be friendly as… progress. I will try to do so from now on.

In the month since I wrote it, well. Life has gone on. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it heartbreaking, the regular amalgam of living. And, listen, I don’t really want to talk about any of the reasons I might have needed comfort during that time period. (It’s nothing serious, although it felt like it was. In any event, everything is fine.) Today, I just want to talk about the comfort part.

What I turn to, when I need comfort, are distractions (reading, writing, TV) and comforting food. And the food is what I’m most interested in today, because I find it fascinating (and soothing, in itself) to learn what kinds of food people turn to in times of stress or grief.

Sure, food is primarily for sustenance. But it can also carry so much emotional weight. (No moral weight, though; I feel strongly about that.) (Unless you are killing endangered species because their XYZ is a delicacy. Then I’d have a moral objection.)  For instance, my first helping instinct is often related to food. When a neighbor lost her husband earlier this year, I immediately wanted to give her a meal. That just seemed the most useful, reasonable thing I could do, to provide some modicum of comfort to a person I know but don’t know well, a person who was likely reeling with shock and heartache and visitors and logistics and grief.

I looked online, as one does, and was surprised – probably naively so – to see what a wide variety of options people recommended. I always thought a casserole was the appropriate thing to give. A nice, hearty macaroni casserole. Or a lasagna. Something like that: easy to heat, carb-heavy. But the recommendations spanned everything from veggies and dip to cookies to fried chicken to stew.

(I ended up making a stew. It was delicious, and hearty. The death happened in the winter, and I thought it would be good for freezing or ladling out to visitors.)

Lately, after needing some comfort myself, and then remembering that stew, I got to thinking about Food As Comfort in general, and how my idea of Comfort Food might be totally different from yours.

When I am in need of comfort, I turn to the carb-heavy stuff. Chicken paprikas is my go-to favorite. It’s creamy and noodle-y and spicy, and it just makes me feel warm and cared for. It’s kind of weird that it should be my top favorite comfort food, I think, because I didn’t grow up eating it. Instead, it’s something my husband and I started making together back when I was in grad school. Well, maybe that’s the reason: I associate it with him, with cozy dinners at home together with the one person who comforts me more than anyone else.

Sometimes, though, the comfort I need is more primal – a bear returning to its cave to weather the icy winds, a newborn nuzzling up to its mother to nurse, a caterpillar spinning itself a chrysalis. I want to retreat to childhood, which was safe and loving, during which I was free from the horrors of the world. And there are many foods from my childhood that surround me with that kind of basic, fundamental warmth.

One comforting favorite is spaghetti with meat sauce. That’s the first meal I learned to make for my family, back when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood and of my own self-sufficiency.

Most recently, I turned to bagels. Another longterm favorite, my mom used to toast Lender’s bagels for me when I was a kid. Dripping with butter, they taste both decadent and simple, life’s complications reduced to its elemental truth: Warm bread. Melted butter. Sometimes honey, making its way in sticky rivulets down my wrist. When I was pregnant with Carla – and horribly sick for twenty-five weeks (I first typed “months” and yes, that’s how it felt) – I subsisted on bagels and pizza. The bagels would stay in my stomach when nothing else would.

Grilled cheese holds a special place in my heart. It was my mother’s go-to Miserable Wintry Day food. A crust of butter on each slice of bread. A thick molten heart of Velveeta. A glass of classic Coke on the side. The unbeatable combination of gooeyness and crunch.

And I’ll always have fond memories of Lipton noodle soup. My mom swears by chicken noodle soup; Lipton did the job just fine, and (a plus for me), has no unappealing chunks of white Styrofoam masquerading as chicken. I tore open many a paper packet and watched the tiny freeze-dried noodles plump up in a swirl of boiling water.

The comfort may not be permanent. But it does help.

What are your go-to comfort foods?

 

Chicken Paprikas 3

This is a ridiculous photo, but it’s the only one I have. I never eat this little. I eat a FULL BOWL, primarily full of sauce, which is the best part of any meal. 

Chicken Paprikas (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Ingredients:

Approximately 6 servings

1 to 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces (pre-cooked is ideal; I’ve included a modification below in case you want to use raw chicken breast)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped roughly

1 Idaho potato, chopped roughly

1 to 3 Tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ to 1 tsp salt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 8-oz container sour cream (I use the fat free sour cream from Trader Joe’s)

3 to 4 Tbsp flour or cornstarch

1 package egg noodles

Directions:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a stock pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and paprika (and optional cayenne) to vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until dark red and glossy.
  3. Add salt, chopped chicken breast, and chicken stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the chopped potato. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you can stick a fork into the potato chunks and they slide off easily. I don’t know how to say this a better way; make sure the potato is cooked.

* If you have raw chicken breast pieces, you can do this step slightly differently. Add the raw chicken together with the salt and stock. Then, once it comes to a boil, simmer everything for 15 minutes until cooked through. Then add the potato and cook for another 15 minutes.

  1. Whisk flour/cornstarch and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  2. Add a ladle full of the stock mixture to the sour cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Do this three times.
  3. Add the tempered sour cream mixture to the pot. Stir.
  4. Serve over egg noodles.

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I love pretty much everything about Indian food. The flavors. The rice. The naan. The abundance of sauce. But of course, getting Indian takeout every night or even once a week is not particularly practical.

So I have been trying for YEARS to make an appropriate substitute at home. I’ve tried all the simmer sauces you can get from the grocery store. I’ve tried so many recipes for chicken tikka masala that they have all sort of begun to run together.

But then I tried this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala from The Kitchn and I fell in love.

Chicken tikka masala 1

You can make it at home IN YOUR CROCKPOT, which is pretty much the holy grail of cooking experiences for me. It’s flavorful and satisfying and – even though it doesn’t taste quite the same as food from your local Indian restaurant – it scratches that itch for spicy, creamy, saucy Indian food that I get every few weeks or so. Plus, it’s another way to dress up boring old chicken breasts – and I am always looking for new ways to eat chicken breasts.

While this recipe is HEAVILY influenced by The Kitchn’s version, I have tweaked it over the past year enough that I am always wondering exactly how much Indian red chile I should use and sometimes forgetting the fenugreek altogether and then wondering why it tastes off, and I have gotten to the point where I need the Real Thing written down somewhere.

One thing I will say is that this doesn’t result in anything resembling chicken tikka masala – at least not any chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had. It would be more accurately described, I think, as an Indian-style curry. So if you are hoping that this will taste just like the tikka masala from your favorite Indian takeaway, you will probably be disappointed. Just letting you know, so you don’t feel misled!

Also, I like things SPICY. So if you do follow this recipe, keep that in mind, and adjust the Indian red chile and the hot chili peppers as necessary.

There are two other things I will say in warning before I type up the recipe:

  • This recipe requires quite a few spices. And I have to say, I cook dinner probably six nights a week and I only use the Indian red chile and the fenugreek for this recipe. I have never used them in another recipe. So I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to buy them on the off chance that this recipe becomes a regular part of your rotation. That said, The Kitchn’s version does not call for either of those spices, which means you can just leave them out, if you want to. I think they help add a more “authentic” flavor to the dish, but they certainly aren’t indispensable.
  • My favorite way to make this is to do the prep work in the morning while Carla is eating breakfast (the chicken and the yogurt, measuring out all the spices, chopping the ginger and the onion) and then doing the sautéing step at lunchtime. Then I throw everything into the slow cooker at about one o’clock and let it cook until dinner. If your plan is to have the crockpot work while you’re at work, this obviously won’t do. So you may need to start the night before.

Slow Cooker Indian-Style Curry

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks (Note: You can certainly use chicken thighs instead if that’s what floats your boat.)
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground Indian red chile
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seed, ground
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree (Note: If you like chunks of actual tomatoes in your food, you could use a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes instead.)
  • 3/4 cup canned light coconut milk (Note: Scrape off the solid part of the coconut milk into your measuring cup first, then fill out the rest of the 3/4 cup with the liquid.)
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 chili pepper (jalapeno or serrano)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked rice, to serve (Note: I prefer basmati rice.)
Chicken tikka masala ingredients 1

The ginger looks weird because it’s frozen, and the garlic looks weird because it came from a jar. I bought the Indian red chiles whole and ground them myself in a spice grinder.

Not pictured: chickpeas

Directions:

  1. After cutting your chicken breasts into bite-size chunks, marinate them in the yogurt for an hour or so.

I just put the chicken into a bowl, toss with the yogurt, cover with plastic wrap, and stow in the fridge for a few hours. You could probably do this the night before you make the dish, if you want to press “cook” right before you go to work. But I can’t remember if I’ve tried that, and I don’t know if the yogurt has any sort of adverse impact on the chicken if they sit together that long. Proceed at your own risk is what I’m saying.

  1. Sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and ground fenugreek in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion becomes translucent and soft.
  2. Add ginger, tomato paste, and spices to the onion and garlic mixture. Cook until the mixture is fragrant, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
  3. Add the onion and spice mixture to the bottom of your slow cooker.
  4. Add the chicken and yogurt to the onion mix in the slow cooker.
  5. Add tomato puree to slow cooker. Use about a quarter cup of water to “rinse” out the tomato puree can, and add water and remaining puree to slow cooker.
  6. Stir everything together, then cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. (Note: I don’t think I have ever cooked chicken breast for 8 hours. Make sure whatever meat you use comes up to the correct temperature, which I am not remembering at this time but which you can find elsewhere online.)

Sometimes I do a combination of the two: I will cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then on high for another hour or two, just to thicken things up a bit.

  1. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking, stir in the coconut milk and chickpeas.
  2. You can add the sliced bell peppers at this time, too, depending on how soft you like them. (I like my bell peppers to have some crunch to them, so I put them on top of my rice and then add the hot curry to the bowl so that they are just warmed through as I eat them.) If you aren’t a bell pepper fan, you could try green beans, peas, broccoli, zucchini, or any other veggies that strike your fancy.
  3. Serve over rice.
  4. Garnish with sliced chili peppers and cilantro. (Obviously, this is optional.)

Chicken tikka masala 3

I feel like this recipe seems more complicated than it is. The sautéing beforehand is kind of a pain in the rear, I won’t lie, but it’s very quick. Probably takes five to ten minutes of actual cooking. And I cheat with the garlic and ginger: We use ginger so often, I have a Ziploc bag full of diced ginger in my freezer that I dip into for this recipe. And I use jarred garlic, which is perfectly adequate for this recipe put those eyebrows back where they belong. Plus, the onion can be roughly diced; no one’s going to measure the pieces to make sure they’re even. So that part really doesn’t take more than another five minutes. Add in five minutes to track down and measure all the spices, and you’re looking at 20 minutes of prep time, and that’s allowing for a minute of staring into the fridge wondering what you opened the fridge to get, and forgetting that your cutting board is in the dishwasher so you have to wash it really quickly, and having to open a brand-new jar of garlic because your old jar is depleted WHAT. It is a delightful time saver and I will not apologize for it.

The chicken, of course, is another matter. I hate websites and people who recommend doing all your prep work the instant you get home from the grocery store, because who wants to do that once you’ve just expended all that energy GROCERY SHOPPING? Not me.

But it does help, grumble grumble. I plan out what I’m going to cook for the week, and then when I am being Super Productive, I will trim and freeze my meat in whatever marinade I’m using. I label the Ziploc with the contents and where the recipe lives online, and then I have waged half the battle when it comes time to actually cook the stuff.

So for this recipe, I would cut up the chicken breasts on Day 1, and then the night before I plan to make this meal, I would remove the chicken from the freezer and throw my cup of yogurt into the Ziploc to marinate as the chicken thaws in my fridge overnight. Then it’s ready to go.

Well, no matter how much I love this recipe, it’s only going to make it into your rotation if it works for you. So I will stop trying to shove it down your metaphorical throat. Maybe you can come over for dinner next time I make it, and see for yourself.

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I love pizza but I hate tomatoes.

It’s a pizza paradox.

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Pizza, delicious pizza.

Yes, yes, I know there are white pizzas and green pizzas – and I do love me some pesto, don’t get me wrong – but my True Love is traditional pizza with red sauce. I like it not only as a pizza base layer upon which all other toppings rest, but also as a dipping sauce for my fully-cooked pizza.

But. The sauce must be completely smooth. COMPLETELY. SMOOTH.

If I get a single tomato seed in my teeth, the entire pizza-eating experience is RUINED.

So my pizza preference is to make my own. And I have perfected my pizza-making methods, including my pizza sauce. And now, dear internet, I share it with you. You know, if you care about smooth sauce.

For the tomato lovers out there: my husband could eat chopped up tomatoes (HORK) on his pizza and still enjoy himself, and he also enjoys my sauce.

First you get your ingredients.

My favorite pizza has mozzarella, pepperoni, and mushrooms. Sometimes I throw on some sliced onions or green peppers, if I’m feeling fancy.

So, you know, assemble whatever you like to throw on your own pizza.

Then you’ve got to make your crust.

I don’t care to make my own dough, so I buy it pre-made. My local grocery store carries a brand called Papa Sals that I really love. I’ve compared it against the pizza dough that my local Italian bakery sells, and it’s got everything I like: it makes a nice crisp crust with a good chew and a nice mild flavor. It’s very easy to knead into a pizza shape. And, most importantly, it last a LONG time. I tend to make little pizzas for lunch, using an eighth of a crust per pizza, and the dough lasts an entire week. (And what dough I have leftover, I roll up in baking-spray sprayed cling wrap and freeze.)

pizza-1-dough

Papa Sal’s, best pre-made pizza dough on earth. Or at least best available in my local grocery store.

(Disclaimer-y deviation from the post at hand: I was in line at the grocery store once, buying my Papa Sal’s dough, when a fellow shopper asked me how long it lasted. I told her a week and the grocery store checker frowned and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that” as though I was suggesting the woman lick the inside of a trash can lid or something. And to be fair, I am no food scientist. And also the dough does get limp and weepy at some point. So I guess even though I have eaten week-old dough and I am still here, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it yourself.)

Getting back to the sauce.

It’s the easiest recipe ever. Takes 10 minutes, tops.

There are four, maybe five ingredients:

pizza-5-ingredients

You have no idea how much money I spend on Penzey’s and Hunt’s every year. So. Good.

  • Hunt’s tomato sauce: I usually get two of the 8 oz cans because my grocery store doesn’t carry the larger size in the low-salt variety. Why low-salt? Well, I prefer it anyway, but also the seasoning for the sauce has salt in it.

 

  • Water: I fill up each tomato sauce can about halfway with water and swirl it around. So let’s say 8 oz of water to be specific about it.

 

  • Penzey’s pizza seasoning: This is a combo of fennel and oregano and basil and other things that combine into sweet sweet pizza goodness.

 

  • Sugar: I put in maybe a teaspoon? I’d err on the side of less sugar. I have over-sugared my pizza sauce before and it is Not Pleasant.

 

  • Cayenne pepper: totally optional, but if you like spice, it adds a really nice extra heat to your pizza.

Combine all these ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring it to a simmer. I turn it to medium and then go collect my pizza ingredients and usually by the time I’ve peeled and washed a mushroom or two, the sauce is beginning to bubble. Then turn it down and let it gently simmer for about five minutes, just long enough so that the sauce is warmed through. Seriously. That’s it.

pizza-7-sauce

This is the sauce in a pot as I am stirring in the seasonings. That odd silver pole in the middle is the handle of a spoon. What? I never purported to be a photographer.

You might want to taste test it, just to make sure you’ve got the right balance of seasonings. I find the best way to taste the sauce is to dip a slice of pepperoni in it. And then maybe another slice, just to make sure. Yum. Pepperoni. But any pizza topping should do the trick. Or I guess you could, like, use a spoon or something. To each her own.

While the sauce is simmering, I usually throw my crust into the oven — at 425 degrees — for a few minutes, just to help with the crispening process. Technical term. If I’m making a teeny just-for-me pizza, I do three minutes; if I’m doing a big for-the-whole-family pizza, I give it five minutes.

Then once your crust comes out, you slather it with the sauce you just made. Add your cheese and pepperoni and whatever else floats your pizza boat. And toss the whole thing in the oven for about twelve minutes (for a small pizza) to twenty minutes (for a big one), or until the cheese is all melty and your pepperonis are nice and crisp.

(Pro tip: I like to pre-bake my ingredients. I put sliced veggies on their own tray to dry out in a hot oven for a few minutes, which helps prevent a soggy pizza. And sometimes I’ll put the pepperoni on the raw crust when I pre-bake it for three to five minutes. That way it gets nice and crispy when I cook it for real.)

This recipe makes enough sauce for your pizza and dipping sauce and more to refrigerate. I have left mine in the fridge for… a long time. A few weeks, I’d say. But again, your results may vary and I am not recommending that you do or not do anything.

Except I do recommend that you eat pizza. Pizza is delicious.

pizza-9-sauce

Completely. Smooth. Smooooooooooth.

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It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

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Do you do this with any type of food?

You think about the food and it sounds amazeballs so you make it/order it at a restaurant?

And then you get the food and you eat it and you remember, oh yeah, this is not my favorite?

That’s how I am with scallops.

I’m pretty sure I have scallop-specific amnesia. Because my experience with scallops usually goes like this:

Oooh, scallops sound awesome!

I think I’ll order/make scallops!

Yum, this first scallop is WONDERFUL! I should eat scallops ALL the TIME!

Hmm. This second scallop is still good, but it’s not super.

Yeah. I think I’m full.

Seriously, by the time I reach Scallop Three, I am sick of scallops. That means more scallops for my husband, though, so SOMEONE is winning.

But if you LOVE scallops, I have a recipe to recommend to you!

It’s very easy and it’s delicious and, best of all, I think it would be equally wonderful with shrimp.

Basically, you get some scallops.

Scallops are pretty gross looking. Also, this one has a mysterious red thread of some sort on it. I… hope we removed that before we ate it.

Then you grill those scallops.

Fun fact: scallops are difficult to skewer. Plus, even when you boil them to prevent them from sticking to the grill, they stick to the freaking grill.

Then you dump this awesome sauce on them.

The sauce is made of:

1.2 cup coconut milk (We used light coconut milk and nobody died.)

4 Tbsp lime juice

1 tsp minced ginger (We keep ginger in the freezer and grate it.)

1 tsp red pepper flakes (Or not, if you are spice-averse. These gave it a surprisingly strong kick.)

2 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro (From your cilantro plant! That’s grown so giant it is taking over all the other herbs and that poor jalapeno you planted to close to it!)

 

You mix all the ingredients together.

Don’t worry, I was skeptical of the sauce too. But it’s delicious. Tangy and spicy and exotic.

Then dump them on the cooked scallop/s. Or shrimp. Or rice. Or whatever vegetables you have lying around. If I were Guy Fieri, I would tell you that you could put it on a flip flop. But I am not and I will not. It’s good, but not good enough to make a flip flop appetizing.

(For more detailed instructions you can check out the full, original recipe in The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby.)

My husband I paired our scallops with some rice and some grilled zucchini planks. Delicious!

We all know I’m no food photographer, folks. It tastes a lot better than this photo would seem to indicate.

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Magic Sauce

Have I ever told you about my magic sauce?

I really don’t think I have. So I am going to tell you now.

It is magic for three reasons:

1. It is easy.

2. It is quick.

3. It makes pretty much ANYTHING taste better.

You are suspicious, I can tell.

So please, allow me to prove my points with very scientific, um, proofs.

1. It is easy.

First of all, the Magic Sauce has only four ingredients. And it requires only three kitchen items. Well, three items and a stove. And all of the kitchen items and ingredients are likely to be kitchen items and ingredients that you already have. AND you don’t have to really measure the ingredients, because you use equal parts of all four of them! Which means you ALSO don’t need to use a recipe! AND once you turn on the stove, you don’t really need to do anything except give it a stir once in a while! Really! It cooks itself just fine and dandy!

See? EASY.

2. It is quick.

The Magic Sauce takes about 10 minutes, from Combining Ingredients to Done.

And I am being 100% honest here. Because I hate when you find a recipe that says, “This takes 10 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook!” and then that 10 minutes is supposed to be enough time for you to wash and chop AND measure AND combine ingredients.

But this Magic Sauce is just dumping equal parts of four ingredients into a saucepan. And turning on the stove. And stirring, if you feel like it.

3. It makes pretty much ANYTHING better.

Now, I have not tried the Magic Sauce on EVERYTHING. Partly because that would be impossible and partly because there are some foods I just won’t eat.

But I HAVE tried it on several things.

It is delicious on:

–          Broiled salmon (I season the salmon with salt, pepper, and cayenne and throw it under the broiler until the Magic Sauce is done. This makes for some crispy ass salmon, but I tend to like meats overcooked.)

Please do not judge the Magic Sauce on this poorly photographed image of broiled salmon slathered in Magic Sauce. What it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in deliciousness. Also, I think this may be a case of "just because you have a photo of the Magic Sauce doesn't mean you should include it." But I have spent too much time writing this caption to listen to that advice.

–          Baked potato

–          Endive appetizers (You take some Belgian endive leaves – those are the little white pointy endives with the yellow tips – and fill them with some dried cranberries, toasted pecans/walnuts, and goat cheese crumbles, and then drizzle them with not-super-hot Magic Sauce.)

–          Grilled chicken

–          Pan fried pork chops

–          Ice cream (bet you didn’t see that one coming!) (I have only tried Magic Sauce on vanilla ice cream, but I think it would be good on lemon ice cream, or raspberry, or chocolate. Or goat cheese ice cream. Have you ever had that? It is GOOD. Well, if you already like goat cheese.)

I also suspect – based on my copious Magic Sauce-eating experience – that it would taste good on several other foods. Like sautéed/grilled/roasted asparagus. Or Brussels sprouts. Or chocolate cake. Or fresh fruit (like strawberries, blueberries, or peaches). Or swordfish.

Now you want the recipe, don’t you?

Here it is:

Step 1: Combine equal parts brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and water in a medium saucepan. (I usually use ½ cup of each.) (Make sure you don’t fill the sauce pan too full, as there is some bubbling involved.)

Step 2: Stir until dissolved. Or don’t. It doesn’t really matter.

Step 3: Turn the burner on high.

Step 4: Wait until the Magic Sauce has transformed from Extremely Liquid-y to Thick And Sauce-Like. (It will bubble a LOT to get to that point. The bubbles will get increasingly sticky.) You will know the sauce is perfect when it is your ideal thickness. This takes about eight minutes, at least with my stove.

Step 5: Drown Pour over whatever food you want to enhance. Seriously.

You can save the Magic Sauce, if you have any leftover. But… It gets a bit, well, unusable. I have not yet figured out how to reheat it in a satisfactory manner.

Aside from its un-save-ability, there is one drawback to the Magic Sauce. I don’t actually find it a drawback, but my husband does.  So in the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I must share it with you.

Anyway, when the Magic Sauce is bubbling away, it gives off a very strong Vinegar Aroma. This aroma does not bother me. But it offends my husband’s delicate nostrils, so much so that he groans loudly if I want to make the Magic Sauce in his presence.

The aroma dissipates quickly, though.  So if I make Magic Sauce while my husband is working late, he doesn’t come home and wrinkle his nose in Nostril Offense.

Well! That is my Magic Sauce. Go forth and sauce it up! And then please report back with your results.

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