28 March 2013

Spicy tuna melt with cilantro and sambal oelek

spicy tuna salad with cilantro and sambal oelek

I haven't had a tuna melt in at least ten years. The last time I remember eating a tuna melt, I was in a bowling alley in East Lansing. White bread, mayo, american cheese--the works.

So what spurred me to make a tuna melt for lunch? I mean, besides that I wanted to actually use some of the emergency tuna I've had in the cupboard for who knows how long.

Well, I wanted to change up the traditional tuna melt, and transform it into something more interesting and less mayonnaisey. I wanted to make it a vehicle for interest and spice. Okay. So let's make the tuna salad component mayo-less, and dress it with a bit of olive oil instead. And let's use some of the big bunch of cilantro that's been hanging out in the crisper. And how about spicing it up with some sambal oelek and mustard? I was out of Chinese hot mustard, so I had to use dijon, but it worked nonetheless.

I can totally see adding a bunch of chopped mint and basil (either along with or in place of the cilantro, according to your cilantro preferences), and maybe even a few drops of fish sauce, for a more obvious Thai tuna salad concoction. I could also see adding some diced hard-boiled egg, for double protein and fat deliciousness. It's tuna salad; you can do whatever you want to it.

One can of tuna will make enough salad for two open-faced melts.

spicy tuna salad with cilantro and sambal oelek

Spicy tuna salad

can of tuna
scallion (or red onion)
sambal oelek (or other hot chili paste)
mustard (dijon or spicy Chinese)
salt, pepper
olive oil

Drain your can of tuna and deposit it into a mixing bowl. Finely dice a stick of celery, a small carrot, and a scallion, and add them to the bowl. You can use more or less veg according to your preferences.

Rip the leaves off a couple stems of cilantro, chop them up, and add them to the bowl. Spoon in sambal oelek and mustard to taste, season with a bit of salt and several large grinds of pepper, and dress with a drizzle of olive oil. Stir it all up and taste it to make sure you're happy with all the proportions.

Voila! Spicy tuna salad.

To make it a tuna melt:

spicy tuna salad

Put spicy tuna salad on your choice of bread. Cover with a few slices of the cheese of your choice. I used sharp cheddar, which is admittedly a bit weird with the cilantro and sambal combination, but it worked out admirably. The only other cheese in the house was goat cheese, and that's not what I wanted, so. I do think some spoonfuls of cream cheese could be deployed to good effect instead, though.

Heat up your tuna melt(s) in the toaster oven or under the broiler. When the cheese is melted and beginning to risp, you're ready.

Eat. I put a bit of extra torn cilantro over the top of mine, because CILANTRO, but that's really up to you.

spicy tuna melt with cilantro and sambal oelek

Note that it's impossible to plate a tuna melt in a fancy manner. The extra cilantro was all I could manage. I mean, I guess a bed of greens could happen, but that would be pretty nonsensical, so I didn't bother. And anyway, who cares? It's a tuna melt. What I really needed was a wide stoneware diner plate with the traditional blue rim. I bet we could even plonk down some kimchi in place of the traditional slaw and dill pickle spear.

Now I want a set of diner plates. Great.

What traditional foods have you turned on ear lately?

26 March 2013

Orange poppyseed cake

I seem to be developing a taste for simple loafy cakes, made with a minimum of sugar and a total lack of frosting. The best part of a cake like this is its versatility. A slice is perfect for breakfast, a midafternoon snack with tea, or an easy dessert. I could definitely use some more options for all of those occasions. Clearly, we needed a cake in the house.

So I looked around the internet and decided to make Cookie & Kate's orange poppyseed pound cake--almost totally according to the recipe--and it was great. Hey, what better use of the oranges on our tree and the slowly diminishing half-pound bag of poppyseeds in the spice cabinet?

Here's what it looks like when you smash a bunch of orange zest into a mix of powdered and raw sugar. Orange and sugar paste!

I had to use the mix of sugars because we don't run the kind of household that normally has random pounds of sugar hanging around. Of course, we also don't normally have powdered sugar. It was just a happy accident, and it worked really well in the cake, besides. That's the only change I made.


There was no licking of the bowl.

I actually oiled the pan before lining it with parchment. This meant the oil held the parchment firmly in place while I was pouring in the batter. Nice. How did I not know this trick before?

The result? A dense and moist loaf of cake with just the barest hint of orange scent, studded with all the crunchy seeds in the land. The overall texture actually reminds me of banana bread, although no bananas were involved.

As with practically every cake I make, I ended up eating a slice or two with peanut butter. Verdict: that's some good breakfast. Or snack. Or dessert.

What kind of cake are you eating this spring?

25 March 2013


giant burrito with refried black beans, brown rice, avocado, cheddar, cilantro

There comes a time in every girl's life when she just wants to eat the most gigantic burrito possible.

Actually, for "a time" substitute "all the time."

Yeah. This weekend we happened on the largest tortillas I've ever seen--12 inches in diameter. What better excuse could we possibly have for making gigantic burritos?

I sauteed some garlic, jalapeno, red and green pepper, and frozen corn in olive oil, seasoned the pan with cumin, oregano, ground New Mexican hot chile, and onion powder (there being no actual onion in the house), and mixed that with a couple cans of refried black beans. You could clearly use your own black or pinto beans instead. I made short-grain brown rice in the rice cooker and warmed up the tortillas in a foil packet in the oven. They were too big to fit in the toaster oven. Yeah.

Assembly: beans, rice, thinly sliced cheddar, hot sauce, avocado, and some mixed lettuce from the farmer's market. I had cilantro in mine too. We forgot to cut up the green onion, but oh well. Note the random piece of purple lettuce peeking out of the end.

giant burrito with refried black beans, brown rice, avocado, cheddar, cilantro

The result? One huge burrito for each of us, and three additional similarly huge burritos for the freezer. I left the avocado and lettuce out of the frozen versions, since those obviously would not do so well in the cold. But I can't say I'll mind smashing up a batch of guacamole or pouring a bunch of tomatillo salsa over a hot emergency burrito in the future.


19 March 2013

Spicy caramel corn with maple, almond, and sesame

Spicy caramel corn with maple, almond, and sesame

We love popcorn. It's easy, fast, and can take on any spicing combination you throw at it. You can make it any time, on the slightest of provocation, and end up with a gigantic steaming bowl of fresh snacky bitlets. Best of all, it's cheap.

That is, it's cheap if you do it right.

Prepackaged microwave popcorn is not only a ripoff, it is DISGUSTING. Do you want your house to reek as much as the office kitchen does after some misguided person makes a bag of fake-buttery microwave popcorn for a midafternoon snack? No. No, you do not. The solution: plain popcorn.

Plain popcorn is easily available in the grocery store. Most of the time you can find bags right next to the microwave popcorn, but if your store has bulk bins, make sure to check them out too. I tend to buy popcorn in bulk and decant into a jar, so there's no danger of loose popcorn spilling from a ripped bag.

So the other night we had just finished dinner but wanted a little extra something. That something turned out to be this maple-coated caramel corn with lots of crunchy sesame seeds. Hey, popcorn is not only an instant snack--it's an instant dessert too! Perfect.

This caramel corn is easiest to make if you have more than one person in the kitchen, so one person can shake the pan of corn while the other swirls the bubbling caramel. However, it's also totally possible to do it entirely yourself. It just takes a bit of timing.

The proportion of caramel to corn (and to nuts and seeds, for that matter) is up to you. I really like a subtle and minimal coating, and I've written this accordingly, but if you want a super-sugary concoction, you can certainly do that as well. Just make more caramel--or less popcorn.

maple, almond, and sesame caramel

Spicy caramel corn with maple, almond, and sesame

1/3 cup popcorn
1/4 cup canola oil
1/8 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp honey
large dash cayenne pepper
1/8 cup roasted salted almonds
optional pat of butter
optional additional salt

Make the popcorn by the method of your choice, following the directions on the package. We do stovetop popcorn, but an air popper or the microwave bag method are good too. Just make sure to use plain unseasoned corn.

While your popcorn is cooking, start your caramel by toasting your sesame seeds. Put a wide frying pan over medium heat and add a layer of sesame seeds. (If you only have raw almonds, you may wish to chop them up and toast them with the seeds.) Toast, shaking occasionally, for about five minutes, or until your seeds turn just slightly golden brown and start smelling delicious. Watch carefully so they don't burn! When done, tip your seeds into a bowl and set them aside.

Put your pan back over the heat. Add your maple syrup and honey and cook, swirling occasionally to mix, until all your sugar is hot and bubbling. Add in a sprinkle of cayenne pepper, a handful or two of chopped almonds, a pat of butter (if you want butter), and your toasted sesame seeds. Swirl the pan to mix everything together, stirring sparingly with something heatproof as needed. Reduce the heat and let the caramel bubble away gently while you finish up making your popcorn.

When both caramel and popcorn are done, put your popcorn in a large bowl. Pour the caramel over it in two or three batches, stirring between each addition. Spread the resulting caramel corn on a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone mat to cool. (If you want to make popcorn balls, incidentally, now is the time--just make sure to butter your hands first.) For an extra sweet-salty crunch, you may want to sprinkle a bit of salt over the hot corn too.

Spicy caramel corn with maple, almond, and sesame

Give your corn a few minutes to solidify before you attack it. We don't even bother putting ours into a serving bowl, but eat it right off the paper. If you want a little more stability, just put the whole thing on a cookie sheet or cutting board. Voila!

What are your favorite emergency snacks--or emergency desserts--or emergency snack-dessert hybrids?

15 March 2013

Spring salad with shredded root veg, chickpeas, goat cheese, and almonds

Spring salad with greens, shredded root veg, chickpeas, goat cheese, and almonds

Guys, it's spring. That means SALAD.

I want all the vegetables on the planet. Okay! What if we take some classic spring greens, combine them with some raw shredded veg, and add a few beans, some bits of cheese, and a handful of chopped nuts? Cover a plate and you have a full meal: tender, crispy, crunchy, and chewy all at once. Hooray!

Since we're hovering right at the boundary between winter and spring, I decided to take advantage of the juiciest winter root veg: carrots and beets. Combined with chickpeas, goat cheese, and almonds, they were just about perfect.

shredding a golden beet

Not very many people seem to realize raw beets are even edible, let alone sweet, earthy, and delicious, but they absolutely are. They're a great option for a raw veg when the new spring peas and asparagus are stubbornly hovering just out of reach. I like to use golden beets, so as not to get my entire kitchen covered with magenta juice, but an ordinary beet will work just as well. And since the golden beet was bright yellow, I decided to use some beautiful purple carrot for extra visual punch.

A box grater is all you really need for finely shredded veg, but if you happen to have a spiralizer or mandoline, now is an excellent time to break them out.

raw shredded golden beet and rainbow carrot

We had some really excellent applewood smoked almonds from our farmer's market on this particular occasion. They're pricy, but they're worth it, especially when you use them as a sparing garnish. (I actually crushed some up and used them to coat a piece of flounder before searing a bit ago--and why I didn't take any pictures of that, I don't know. It was AMAZING.) Of course, then there's the issue of just eating them all out of hand, but they're so delicious that I think we can live with that.

This salad can take all kinds of variation. Don't have almonds? Try some toasted cashews or sunflower seeds. Don't have goat cheese? Crumble a chunk of feta or blue cheese, or use mozzarella bocconcini. Want to get rid of a handful of radishes or a kohlrabi bulb? Shred them up and go forth. It's all good.

Spring salad with greens, shredded root veg, chickpeas, goat cheese, and almonds

Spring salad with shredded root veg, chickpeas, goat cheese, and almonds

salad greens
cooked chickpeas
goat cheese (or your preferred cheese)
smoked almonds (or the nut or seed of your choice)
vinaigrette (we use Thomas Keller's house vinaigrette)

Wash and dry your greens; arrange them on a plate. Cover your greens with a layer of shredded raw carrots and beets. Add several scattered handfuls of cooked chickpeas and chunks of cheese. Finish with a sprinkling of chopped smoked almonds. Drizzle a vinaigrette over the top of your salad, add a bit of cracked pepper if desired, and eat.

Hooray for salad!

What are you eating on your early spring salads?

11 March 2013

Apple oat yogurt cake

Lately I have been wanting snacks, and plenty of them. Crackers and cheese, pickles, tiny salami and mustard sandwiches, baby carrots, smoked almonds, clementines: ALL THE SNACKS. So I was not surprised to find myself looking through the internet to find a recipe for some sort of snacky baked business, and even less surprised to find myself whipping up a batch of cakey quickbread filled with apples, oats, and yogurt. What could be better for snacks than an easy slice-and-go loaf?

This cake is moist and nutty, a bit crumbly, and studded with delicious fruit chunks. If you like a streusel topping (with walnuts?), I imagine that it would be an exceptional addition.

It's perfect for breakfast, whether toasted gently (in the toaster oven; this is too soft to put in the actual toaster) and spread with peanut butter or cream cheese, or just eaten cold out of hand as you run to catch the train. And it's a nice not-too-sweet dessert for those of us who always want a little something a couple hours after dinner, but hate the crash of a serious sugar bomb.

Apple oat yogurt cake
Adapted from Stonyfield's apple oatmeal bread.

1 cup plain full-fat yogurt
1 cup oatmeal
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup raw sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup diced apples

Before baking, line a loaf pan with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350F.

Start by mixing the oatmeal with the yogurt. Set aside for a few minutes to let the yogurt soak into the oats.

In a large bowl, beat together the wet ingredient mix: egg, oil, sugar, and vanilla. If you are a traditional baker, your next step will be to sift together the dry ingredients and fold them into the wet mix in three or four batches. I am not a traditional baker, so I first mixed in the baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and then mixed in the flour in a few batches. Either way works just fine.

Fold your yogurt-oat mixture and diced apples into the batter. I used fuji apples, since we had a big bag of them, but you can use whatever apple you like best. Lots of other fruit would work well here. I think pears would be a particularly good idea.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan, trying not to get any batter sandwiched in between the parchment and the side of the pan. As you can tell, I totally slopped some batter over the edge and had to do a bit of emergency spatulating. It worked out fine, though.

Bake your cake for about 45 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes before lifting the whole thing out by the parchment edges and letting it cool completely on a wire rack.

Eat your cake! While this is great plain, adding nut butter or whipped cream can take it in either a savory or a sweet direction. A simple pat of butter is always a good idea too.

What are you guys baking this spring?

06 March 2013

Meyer lemon limoncello

homemade meyer lemon limoncello

It's happening.

You guys know we have a meyer lemon tree in the backyard. Our next-door neighbors also have a standard lemon tree that overhangs our driveway, and they've urged us repeatedly to take as many as we like. So what I'm saying is: we have some lemons around.

So last week I grabbed ten lemons and set out to make some limoncello.

Limoncello is really easy to make. It mostly takes patience, which admittedly is not necessarily the easiest thing when you want to drink delightful lemon liqueur NOW. I find that it helps to bury your limoncello-in-process behind your other bottles of liqueur, or to tuck it into the highest cabinet in the house. That way it's easier to forget it's there and let it age appropriately.

homemade meyer lemon limoncello

Meyer lemon limoncello

10 unwaxed meyer lemons
1 quart 80 proof vodka
simple syrup

Zest your lemons, being careful not to include the bitter white pith. You don't need some fancy zester for this. I used my vegetable peeler, which is at least 25 years old, and it worked very well.

Put all your zest in a clean quart canning jar or other reasonable jar of your choice. You should have enough to fill the jar about halfway full, depending on the size of your lemons. Pour your vodka over your lemon zest, up to the top of the jar. Lid the jar and put it in a dark cabinet.

For the next week or two, steep your limoncello. I let mine steep for about ten days, but you can go longer or shorter if you prefer. Shake the jar every time you think about it--every few days will be fine.

When you're done steeping, strain out your peels. I find a canning funnel to be very helpful at this stage of the proceedings. Quart jar, canning funnel, strainer. You may need to strain your limoncello a second time, using a coffee filter, paper towel, or fine nylon sieve, to get out the tiniest bits of sediment.

Sweeten your limoncello to taste with simple syrup. I'd recommend starting with about 1/3 cup of syrup for a quart of liqueur, especially since meyer lemons are already so sweet. The act of adding sugar is what takes this from a schnapps (i.e. a basic infused vodka) to a liqueur, incidentally.

Now lid your jar, put it in the cupboard, and try to forget about it for at least a month or so. Give it some time to age. The more time you give it, the smoother and more delightful your limoncello will be.

When you're ready, drink your limoncello. It works well as a single aperitif or as the main ingredient in a really serious lemon drop. Obviously, limoncello is a drink made for summer, so try not to drink it all before it gets warm. Sweet refreshing lemon under the hot August sun? yes, please.

homemade meyer lemon limoncello

Simple syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Heat your sugar and water together on the stovetop, swirling the pan from time to time. When the sugar has dissolved completely, your syrup is done. Put it in a jar and let it cool completely (unlidded) before using.

You can keep simple syrup in the refrigerator for a good month or so. It's especially nice to have on hand when you want a classic sour, such as the Fitzgerald.

Last year's batch of limoncello was 100% standard lemons. This batch is 100% meyer. We have, of course, drunk the entire older batch already. So I may start a second standard lemon batch, and maybe even a mixed batch, so we can do a tasting and comparison in a few months. And maybe a couple more batches made with all the other citrus I can get my hands on...

How are you using the end-of-season citrus? Anyone else making liqueurs?

04 March 2013

Cashew cheese and carrot

Farmer's market yellow heirloom carrot with oregano-shallot cashew cheese and cracked black pepper

Cashew cheese has definitely been on my mind of late. What's not to love about a rich nut puree blended with herbs and vegetables? (Unless you have a cashew allergy, of course.) I decided to take advantage of our giant bush of oregano--the only non-citrus plant that is actually producing right now--and make a batch of cashew cheese with oregano and shallot. Perfect.

At first, I wanted to eat my cashew cheese in rolls, like I did with my raw zucchini rolls this past summer. I decided to use a beautiful yellow carrot instead of the totally out-of-season zucchini. Of course, carrot is quite a bit harder, and I found that my vegetable peeler only wanted to make the thinnest and most breakable of strips. So instead of making rolls, I cut thin slices of carrot and put cashew cheese on top of each. Maybe it's not quite as pretty a presentation (although I honestly find that arguable, with that brilliant yellow carrot color), but it's just as delicious.

I'm having a hard time naming this. Raw carrot and cashew cheese nibblers? Cashew cheese with oregano and shallot atop shaved carrots? Farmer's market yellow heirloom carrot with oregano-shallot cashew cheese and cracked black pepper? Sure, why not?

Farmer's market yellow heirloom carrot with oregano-shallot cashew cheese and cracked black pepper

Farmer's market yellow heirloom carrot with oregano-shallot cashew cheese and cracked black pepper

1 cup cashews, soaked 1 hour or more & drained
leaves from four or five sprigs of fresh oregano
1/4 a large shallot or 1/2 a small one, chopped
1/4 tsp white miso, optional
1/4+ cups water
salt & pepper
a large carrot of your choosing
more fresh oregano and pepper to garnish

First, make the cashew cheese. Combine your cashews, oregano leaves, shallot, miso, water, and a mild sprinkling of salt and pepper in a food processor or blender. Pulse, scraping as needed, until the mixture is thick and well blended, adding a trickle more water if needed. As always, you should use a food processor for this if you have one. I used our blender, which was actually less frustrating than usual. Remove the finished cashew cheese to a container of your choice.

Scrub and peel your carrot. Slice it on the diagonal into oblong disks. Top each piece of carrot with a spoonful of cashew cheese, and garnish with cracked black pepper and an oregano leaf or two. Repeat until you have as many bites of carrot and cashew cheese as you like. Refrigerate any leftover cashew cheese in a sealed container and use it within a week.

Farmer's market yellow heirloom carrot with oregano-shallot cashew cheese and cracked black pepper

These guys would make an amazing plate of hors d'ouvres for a party. Little delicious bites of finger food full of vegetables, nuts, and herbs? They'd certainly give the standard crudites a run for their money.

Hooray! Snacks for all!