30 January 2014

Easy oven fries

Easy oven fries

If you're planning to eat frozen faux-chicken nuggets or pizza for dinner anytime soon, we may have a lot in common. For instance, did you also wake up with a gigantic headache that didn't abate until nearly 2 pm, regardless of ibuprofen or cups of tea alike? Yeah! Fist bump! Because that's what happened yesterday at our house.

So, to class up our low-effort dinners, both now and in the future, I propose that we should all make these fries. They're super simple: just potatoes, oil, and a few seasonings, all stuck in the oven to turn beautiful and golden. Homemade fries make everything better.

Easy oven fries

Easy oven fries

waxy potatoes of your choice
flavorless oil
salt, pepper
mustard powder
cayenne, paprika, or chili flake

Start by preheating your oven to 375F.

Scrub your potatoes well under cold running water. Slice them into the fry shape of your choice. I usually go for the thicker steak fry shape, which produces some lovely fluffy potato in the center of each fry.

Put your potatoes in a bowl. Add a slug of oil, just enough to coat your potatoes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a couple good dashes of mustard powder, and as much hot (or mild) pepper as you desire. I used paprika and red New Mexico chile flake. Stir everything together until well coated.

Arrange your fries in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, flipping your fries about halfway through. Thicker fries will need a bit more time to cook completely. Personally, I like steak fries, as they are tastier and also require less chopping, so mine took closer to 45 minutes to bake.

When your fries are golden brown on both sides and totally tender inside, you are done. Serve them hot, with the ketchup, bbq sauce, or other dipping creation of your choice. The yogurt-dijon mustard sauce I made the other day would be amazing. I'm just saying.

What do you make to bump your everyday dinners up a notch?

26 January 2014

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

Happy 7th blogiversary to me!

Instead of baking a cake, I had lunch. Seems appropriate.

This is the kind of food I make when I need to eat immediately. A lot of my food fits into that category. It's sort of the theme of the blog, actually. Do you want to eat a plate of something good and interesting, with limited fuss factor? Here you go.

The best thing about these guys is that they're low-effort but high-impact. How basic is a peanut butter and honey sandwich? I ate hundreds of them when I was growing up, both with banana slices and plain. The ingredients are cheap and easily available, and putting them together takes under five minutes. But with a few tweaks to bump up the texture and flavor, you get a far superior end product.

First: rice cakes. They still exist, for one thing, and they're a perfect base for a sandwich filled with peanut butter and honey. You really need a robust crunch to stand up to that soft, sticky, oozing center. Second: just-ripe banana. Fresh fruit with some solid tooth adds a second textural element and a different subtle sweetness. Third: nuts and seeds. These can not only amp up the crunch factor, but add some little pinpoints of heat and aroma, especially if they've just been toasted. The results are crispy, rich, sweet, and savory, and fill you with energy for a surprisingly long time. Yeah!

It's super easy to switch this up to use what you have in the house. Swap out rice cakes for crackers or crisp hot toast, or make a flatbread wrap and crisp the whole thing quickly in the toaster oven. Use sunflower or almond butter in place of the peanut butter. Molasses, agave, or a little swirl of apricot jam (you know, if you're a pb&j person) can work well instead of honey. Apple or pear sliced thinly can sub for the banana, and flaked coconut, chopped dried fruit, or any kind of nut or seed can be a good garnish.

The pantry is your oyster.

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

rice cakes
peanut butter
sesame seeds
toasted almonds

Start by spreading peanut butter onto a couple of rice cakes. Add a swirl of honey to each.

I like to mix my honey and peanut butter up with the back of a spoon, so I don't get any bites with way too much sugar. It's surprising how much such a simple step improves the taste. Also, it looks pretty.

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

Slice up a banana and arrange the slices on top of your peanut butter-honey layer.

Now it's time for toppings. I decided to have one rice cake with sesame seeds and one with some finely chopped almonds.

To toast your sesame seeds, place a handful of them in a small dry frying pan. Heat over medium, swirling the pan frequently, for up to five minutes, or until the seeds are just beginning to turn golden brown and smell fragrant and tasty. Be sure to keep an eye on them, since seeds can burn at the drop of a hat. When your sesame seeds are toasted to your liking, remove them from the heat immediately.

Chop a few almonds as finely as you like. Three or four almonds will be plenty for some subtle contrast. My almonds were already roasted, so I didn't need to do anything but chop them up. If you're using raw almonds, you may want to toast them along with your sesame seeds.

Sprinkle your sesame seeds and almond bits over your rice cakes, and you're done.

Peanut butter, honey, and banana rice cakes with toasted sesame seeds and crushed almonds

Eat with the crispy raw fruit or vegetable of your choice. I cut up a fuji apple, sprinkled it with pepper, and had it on the side for even more fruit action.

Happy sandwiching.

What are you making lately for quick yet delicious lunches?

22 January 2014

Toor dal and spicy sambal cabbage

toor dal

In the interest of cleaning out our food stash while also eating a variety of delightful dinners, I made some toor dal the other day. This fulfilled several criteria at once.

First, we had toor dal already in the freezer. I wanted to get things out of the freezer. Win!

Second, I didn't want to leave the house for any other ingredients. Fortunately, we have a well-stocked spice cabinet and pantry, so that was also a win.

Third, we wanted to eat delicious things. Toor dal is aromatic, full of flavor, and certainly delicious. Another win.

Fourth, we've been wanting to learn to make more Indian food at home. A new dal--generally defined as a lentil or pulse-based soup with spices--definitely qualifies there.

And fifth, I thought it was about time for me to actually try to cook something besides plain dried beans in the pressure cooker. This recipe called for turmeric and ginger in the pressure cooker as well. I tried it out, and lo! Everything worked perfectly.

In conclusion, win win win win win. Yeah!

If you aren't aware, toor dal = dried split yellow pigeon peas. This one combined them with a chonk--a heated oil or ghee with lots of spices--flavored with cumin, mustard seeds, bay leaves, asafetida, dried red chilies, and paprika. That sounds good already, doesn't it? But when you add in some garam amsala and amchoor--dried green mango powder, which serves as an acid punch--you get a really excellent finished product.

I followed Manjula's toor dal recipe, because, as we all know, Manjula's recipes are great. You should go try some of them if you haven't yet. I can't say I bothered clarifying my butter, but otherwise, I followed her basic recipe completely.

toor dal

The dal was really, really amazing: super delicious, fragrant, hot, but not too spicy. I had some yogurt and cilantro out for garnish, but I ended up not using them at all. The dal itself was already too good. That is really saying something.

We had our dal with brown rice (currently hiding under the dal) and some sambal-sauteed cabbage of which I took zero pictures. It was super easy and tasty, though. This method should work for most hardy winter greens, no problem.

Sambal-sauteed cabbage

white cabbage
vegetable or peanut oil
sambal oelek to taste

Warm a slug of oil on medium-high in a saute pan of your choice. While your oil is heating, core half a cabbage and slice it into whatever shape you like best. I made large, rough strips about 1 inch wide and 2 inches across, but you can cut yours however you like.

Add your cabbage to the pan along with a pinch of salt. Saute, stirring frequently, until your cabbage has mostly wilted. This should take maybe five to seven minutes. Toss in a spoonful or two of sambal oelek or the other hot chili paste of your choice and continue to cook for another minute or two, or until the cabbage is done to your liking. Taste, correct seasonings, and you're done. Simple.

Eat your cabbage with dal or top it with a fried egg and some slivered toasted almonds for a full-meal experience. Hooray!

What hearty soups and winter vegetables are you eating lately?

18 January 2014

Twice-baked sweet potatoes with black beans and broccoli

Twice-baked sweet potatoes with black beans and broccoli

More comforting food at its finest!

Winter is definitely the best time for those dishes that require you to run the oven for multiple hours. Twice-baked potatoes are a prime example. First you bake the potatoes whole. Then you hollow them out, stuff them with filling, and bake them again. End result? A toasty warm kitchen and a plateful of soothing starchy goodness. Perfect.

The standard twice-baked potato is generally seen as a side dish, but I make mine into the star of the show. How? By adding not only cheese and vegetables, but protein, generally in the form of beans. This creates an entire little mini-casserole stuffed with every good thing, and perfect for a one-dish meal. Add a salad on the side and you're completely covered.

This time I picked out a couple of beautiful sweet potatoes, added some refried black beans, broccoli, and kale, and topped the finished product with some chunks of herbed goat cheese. This made for an intense & delicious winter dinner combination.

Not the best pictures, but the potatoes in question are still delicious. Let's go.

Twice-baked sweet potatoes with black beans and broccoli

sweet potato
onion or garlic
cooked black beans, refried or roughly mashed
salt, pepper, paprika or cayenne
optional cheese

Scrub your sweet potatoes well under running water, pat dry, and stab all over with a fork. Bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes, or until they're cooked through. You can also choose the quick method and microwave them for about 6-7 minutes if you happen to own a microwave. I don't, so the oven method always wins.

Let your potatoes cool enough to work with them. Cut them in half longways and scoop out the cooked sweet potato flesh, leaving behind a thin but intact shell.

Mix the flesh with some chopped onion or garlic, a few big spoonfuls of black beans, some diced broccoli (including the peeled stems--and if you have a random kohlrabi lying around, peel that, cube it up, and throw it in too. Kohlrabi: it's totally a big, round broccoli stem.), and a few leaves of kale. You can definitely go for either all broccoli or all kale, but I had a few odds and ends lying around and I wanted to use them all up at once. That's the beauty of a stuffed potato--practically anything goes.

Season your stuffing mixture with salt, pepper, and paprika or cayenne to taste. If you want cheese, go nuts; if not, no problem. I've mixed in a few handfuls of grated sharp cheddar to excellent effect. This time I decided to rebake my potatoes sans dairy & garnish with cheese at the end.

Twice-baked sweet potatoes with black beans and broccoli

Stuff your potato shells with the filling mixture, dividing it up as evenly as possible. Arrange them on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for about a half hour, or until heated completely through. If you want to, you can throw on a few handfuls of grated cheese and finish them under the broiler; otherwise, you can just call them done when hot.

Serve with salad or soup for a full and hearty lunch. Garnish with anything you think sounds good. I added chunks of goat cheese, which melted nicely as I mashed them in with my fork. Some fresh chopped parsley or a spoonful or two of thick Greek yogurt would be excellent too.

Hooray: potatoes. Don't you feel better?

How are you eating your potatoes lately?

10 January 2014

Lamb burgers with yogurt and dijon mustard sauce

Lamb burgers with yogurt and dijon mustard sauce

Well. The beginning of 2014 has turned out to be unexpectedly challenging so far. I for one am feeling pretty tired and ready for some serious comfort food. It's time for burgers.

At our house, burgers are usually Jenna of good good things' BBQ pinto bean burgers. You should absolutely give these a try, if you haven't already. SO GOOD. I made up a huge batch to freeze several months ago, and was that ever a good idea. The only problem was that we ate them all, and I haven't made up another batch yet.

So this time, exhausted and in need of immediate protein infusion, I went for a lamb burger.

Lamb is absolutely my burger meat of choice. Beef has that tallowy mouthfeel; pork is too much fat all at once; chicken is boring and easy to overcook. Lamb, in contrast, is delicious and strong, juicy and intense, and it matches super well with all the seasonings I like best (read: practically all of them). Ginger and lemongrass, soy sauce with hot chili pepper and garlic, feta and artichoke, bell pepper and onion piperade--any combination is delicious.

I grabbed a red onion and a bell pepper, ripped up a piece of bread, and went to work. Burgers!

For garnish, I decided to make up a micro-batch of a really easy, really delicious sauce. It's the easiest thing on the planet: plain yogurt with dijon mustard. This stuff is the best possible idea as long as you like both yogurt and mustard. Mixing them together creates a spicy, tangy sauce that is far more than the sum of its parts, and takes literally seconds to make. Perfect.

Lamb burger on kaiser roll

The mighty lamb burger

1/4 of a red onion
1/4 of a red bell pepper
1/2-2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 lb ground lamb
salt, pepper

Start by chopping your vegetables as finely as possible. Finer bits will adhere better to the finished burgers. You can, as mentioned, add more things to your lamb burgers. Some garlic would be nice, as would a big handful of fresh parsley, but this time I kept it simple.

If you don't have any breadcrumbs around, chop up a piece of bread too. No problem! Also no trips to the store to buy something as cheap and easy to make as breadcrumbs.

Note that breadcrumbs are mandatory in a good burger. They keep it moist and tender, eliminating the "solid meat hockey puck" issue. Do not make these without breadcrumbs.

Mix everything together in a big bowl with your hands. Yeah!!

Lamb burger with red pepper and red onion

Form the meat mixture into reasonable burger-sized patties. I made three from this amount, but you could definitely make four slightly smaller patties if you wanted to. Freeze any burgers you don't want to cook immediately with a square of parchment paper in between them. Then you can just defrost and cook them in times of future burger emergency.

Fry your lamb burgers over high heat for about four minutes on the first side. Flip, reduce the heat, cover, and continue to cook on medium to medium-low for another four or so minutes. The time is going to depend on how hot your stove runs, so check for doneness and cook longer if necessary. Just imagine you're making a grilled cheese sandwich and you should be good.

Serve on a delightful toasted bun with the condiments, cheese, and vegetables of your choice. I used the aforementioned yogurt and mustard sauce plus a whole lot of crispy romaine lettuce. Fries are not mandatory, but they're certainly recommended.

Lamb burgers with yogurt and dijon mustard sauce

Yogurt and dijon mustard sauce

plain full-fat yogurt
dijon mustard (or probably any good spicy mustard)

This is the easiest sauce ever. Simply mix together roughly equal amounts of yogurt and mustard until smooth. Taste and decide whether you want to spice it up with more mustard or tang it up with more yogurt.

Serve on a lamb burger, as a dipping sauce for fries, or use to garnish cooked vegetables. I tried this with roasted carrot, and it was excellent. Steamed broccoli is on the to-try list as well.

Together, these guys made a plate of comfort food at its finest. What hearty dishes are you cooking in the depths of winter?

06 January 2014

Multigrain scones with chard and parmesan

Multigrain scones with chard and parmesan

Cookie season is officially over. It's time for the mainstays of winter food: hearty stews, roasted root vegetables, and big bunches of sturdy greens. But that doesn't mean no baking! Winter is one of the best possible times to mix up a batter and produce a steaming loaf of bread, a platter of rolls, or a fluffy muffin. Who doesn't want to crack open the oven to release a gush of heat and a pan of delicious, crispy baked goods? I ask you.

So I made a pan of scones--but not just any scones. These guys are packed with grains and stuffed with chopped chard leaves and parmesan to produce a slightly sweet, slightly salty, mild, tender, and delicious result. It's the season of greens, after all. Why not push past the typical steamed and sauteed preparations and go for a scone?

I used AP flour, rolled oats, 10-grain cereal mix, and a little ground flaxseed to punch these guys up with as many grains as possible. The cornmeal in my cereal mix gave the end product a nice subtle crunch. If you don't have a similar mix hanging around your kitchen, you can always substitute in the flour of your choice. I would probably go for wheat or rye flour here, since we already have oats in the mix, but more exotic flours like buckwheat could also produce some really interesting results.

Multigrain chard parmesan scone dough

Multigrain scones with chard and parmesan
w ref to maple oat multigrain scones

1 1/2 cup flour of your choice
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup 10-grain cereal mix (or wheat, rye, or oat flour)
1 tbsp flaxseed meal (optional)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped chard or other greens of choice
~1 cup grated parmesan, not packed

Start by preheating your oven to 375F and lining a baking sheet with parchment or silicone mats.

Mix all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add your butter, cut into small chunks, and combine with a pasty blender or two forks. I like to use grated frozen butter for maximum ease. You will definitely get butter all over your hands if you try to grate a big chunk of frozen butter, but it's worth it. Mix until your mixture resembles a pile of breadcrumbs.

Add your egg and milk to the dry ingredients and mix just enough to combine, using a wooden spoon or spatula. Fold in your prepared greens and cheese. It's super easy to substitute other greens or cheeses here if you prefer; for instance, spinach and feta is classic. I would reduce the amount of cheese to 1/2 cup if you use something more solid than fluffy freshly grated parmesan, however. Just use your judgement and you should be fine.

Knead everything together a few times and your dough will be ready. Flatten it slightly to form a round disk, and divide it into eight wedges with a pastry cutter.

Arrange your finished scones on your baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until your scones are golden brown underneath and sound hollow when tapped. If you want to, you can add some cheese to each scone in the last few minutes of cooking. I topped mine with cheese at the 18 minute mark, and then baked for another 5 minutes before checking for doneness. I don't think this is really necessary, but hey--cheese!

Multigrain chard parmesan scones

Let your scones rest for five minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a rack. Eat warm or let them cool; it's up to you.

These guys are good split in half, toasted, and spread with butter. They're good just by themselves, eaten in a few bites as you walk to the bus stop in the morning. I bet they would make some very interesting little savory sandwiches, if that's how you roll. And it goes without saying that they're the perfect accompaniment to a giant bowl of the dal, chowder, or bisque of your choice. Soup and homemade scones: together at last.

Hooray! Scones!

How are you eating your winter greens?

02 January 2014

New Year's hot pepper, ginger, and orange syrup

tea with hot pepper, ginger, and orange syrup

New Year's usually gets me in a "Where did we get so much STUFF?" frame of mind.

So the other day I sorted through the mishmash of random ingredients stuffed into our pantry cabinet and got rid of a lot of expired and otherwise not so great stuff. And along with the cans of tuna (which I made into an entirely delightful spicy tuna melt) and ancient half-eaten packages of rice noodles, I found a bag we'd bought at the farmer's market when we lived in New York--a bag still mostly full of dried hot cayenne peppers.

Obviously, spices are better when they're fresh, but these peppers are still usable. The real question is how we can use them up before they truly get too old. I definitely have some future soup broths in mind, for one thing. But in the meantime, how about a spicy syrup for delightful hot drink purposes?

John thought up this flavor combination. He originally wanted to make it into candy, but we don't have a candy thermometer, so. Syrup was a perfect backup plan, especially since it means that now we get to doctor our tea and hot whisky drinks at our leisure. It's definitely a great plan if, for instance, you have the other classic response to the new year: a sore throat and a stuffy nose.

The process is a takeoff on basic simple syrup. All you have to do is melt sugar in water and infuse it with hot peppers, fresh ginger, and orange. Strain your syrup, tip a spoonful into your cup of tea, and get ready for a blissfully warming sip.

hot pepper, ginger, and orange syrup

Hot pepper, ginger, and orange syrup

1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
3-4 dried hot peppers (or 1+ tbsp red pepper flake?)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped
juice of 1 orange

Start the same way you'd make any simple syrup. Put your sugar and water in a small saucepan and simmer, swirling occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved.

Add your hot peppers, ginger, and orange juice to the syrup. Cover the pan, leaving a small crack to let some steam escape, and continue to simmer slowly for about fifteen minutes. Check occasionally to see how much liquid has evaporated. When your syrup has thickened slightly, put on the pot's lid, turn off the heat, and let steep for another fifteen minutes or so.

Strain out the solids in a fine-mesh sieve, and you're done! You'll need to cool your syrup completely if you want to use it in cold cocktails, but otherwise, a spoonful or two of hot syrup can go straight into tea or toddy at your discretion. Pour the leftovers into your jar of choice, refrigerate, and use within a week or two.

Happy new year! What are you planning for 2014?