24 February 2014

Breakfast burritos with quinoa and red pepper scramble

Why are leftover grains the best? Because if you mix them with eggs and veg, you can make a huge healthy meal of breakfast burritos in under ten minutes. As I remain exhausted and in need of nearly instant sustenance, these were more than welcome; they were necessary.

On this particular occasion, I had a mixture of multicolored quinoa and brown rice hanging out in the refrigerator. Clearly they needed to get into a pan with some egg (and from there into my mouth) as soon as possible.

Breakfast burritos with quinoa and red pepper scramble

red pepper
leftover quinoa or cooked grain of your choice
salt, pepper
fresh cilantro (or green onion)
flour tortillas
hot sauce/etc to serve

Melt a little butter over medium heat in the frying pan of your choice. Add a handful of chopped onion and cook for about three minutes, or until beginning to soften.

Chop up your red pepper and any other vegetable you might want in your scramble. This really depends on what you have hanging around in the crisper and think would be good in a breakfast burrito. Pretty much anything goes.

Add your vegetables and a little salt to your onions. Cook for another two or three minutes before adding a couple handfuls of cooked grain. Stir everything together and continue to cook for another few minutes, or until your vegetables are tender and your grains hot through.

Now it's time for eggs. I like to add mine right to the pan, so I don't have to wash another dish (crucial when cooking tired), but you can always beat them in a separate bowl before adding if you prefer. In any case, turn the heat down to low and add your eggs. Season with salt and pepper and a handful of torn cilantro or green onion. Then quickly mix everything together with a spatula, stirring well to scramble.

Cook, stirring from time to time, until your eggs are just about done to your liking. Toss a couple of flour tortillas over your pan to quickly steam for the last minute or so of cooking. Again, you can warm them separately if you like, but I like the convenience of this method.

Fill your warm tortillas with your scramble and garnish with the herbs and hot sauce of your choice. Roll them up and eat them immediately, while they're nice and hot. Don't you feel better?

What's your favorite filling for a breakfast burrito?

21 February 2014

Mashed potato pancakes with yogurt and pickled peppers

Mashed potato pancakes with yogurt and pickled peppers

I don't know about you, but I have been SUPER BUSY lately. For the past couple days I've been working setup for Stitches West, a gigantic yarn convention, and if you think that doesn't sound like a lot of work, you've never hauled around a bunch of 100-lb boxes of yarn. The transition between brainwork and physical labor is interesting, to say the least.

So I've had to actually eat breakfast every morning. This is emphatically not normal for me; I've pretty much always felt nauseous if I ate anything within an hour of waking up. My usual breakfast is a lot of tea, but this week that was not going to fly. So it was a good thing that I had half a massive batch of mashed potatoes with spinach hanging out in the fridge, because that meant I could have simple mashed potato pancakes every single morning. They're the perfect solution: they're fast, easy, NOT SWEET (crucial for a non-sugar-crashy breakfast), and don't make me feel sick.

On top of that, mashed potato pancakes are a good vehicle for a variety of toppings. I went in the yogurt direction because I love yogurt and have a big vat of it around. Besides, we all know that sour cream works well with creamy potato--and yogurt, with its similar rich tang, does too.

Mashed potato pancakes with yogurt and pickled peppers

Super mashed potato pancake!

leftover mashed potato
butter as needed
to top: plain yogurt, herbs, mustard, pepper, etc.

Form palm-sized patties out of cold leftover mashed potatoes. Fry over medium-high heat in the pan of your choice. If you had a lot of butter and cream in the initial mash, you may need no butter whatever in the pan. I certainly didn't, although I was also using a nonstick pan.

Cook for about three to five minutes per side, or until golden brown. The timing will depend on the strength of your burner. If your patties are very thick, you may want to put the lid on the pan for a few minutes to ensure that the middles are hot through.

When your pancakes are done, slide them onto a plate. Top with the savory deliciousness of your choice and eat immediately, as hot as possible.

Mashed potato pancakes with yogurt and pickled peppers

I ate my pancakes with two different yogurt toppings. #1: thick labneh (i.e. drained yogurt) with whey-fermented brown mustard and black pepper. #2: ordinary plain yogurt with pickled peppers and black pepper. Both of these were excellent choices, although I think I prefer the latter for sheer inclusion of homemade pickles. Hot pancakes with a crispy coating and soft center, topped with creamy yogurt and crunchy, spicy pickled peppers? They were SO good.

Lots of other additions would work really well here, though. If I had fresh dill, you know I would have added some of that to my yogurt. A straight-up tzatziki, such as my tzatziki, would also be amazing.

Hooray for mashed potato pancakes! What's your favorite savory pancake?

17 February 2014

Zürcher geschnetzeltes with chicken

Zürcher geschnetzeltes with chicken

I had never heard of Zürcher geschnetzeltes until last week, when someone mentioned it randomly on ravelry. The translation is just "sliced meat Zurich style." That's not very descriptive, so it's a good thing the reality is much more enticing: a rich and fragrant dish of sliced veal and mushrooms in a white wine and cream sauce. SUPER EXCITING. This clearly needed to happen, if only so I could pretend that it's actually winter here in drought-ridden California.

There was just one catch. Our usual grocery store didn't have any veal--and honestly there isn't a lot of red meat happening at our house anyway. So I decided to make this with chicken.

Yes, chicken, arguably the most boring of all meats! And yet, I like chicken, and I thought it would be excellent in a white wine and cream sauce with mushrooms and sage. What better way to avert the biggest problem with chicken--dryness--than to smother it in sauce? With some attention to size and cooking time, it worked out very well.

I made the mistake of not thinking about what I was going to serve this with until it was entirely finished and ready to go. Evidently the traditional Swiss accompaniment is rösti, which would be pretty amazing. A steaming spoonful of egg noodles or hot mashed potatoes would also work well. But I ate mine all by itself, with a little bread to sop up the copious sauce left on the plate, and was still well content.

Since I'm the only meat-eater in the house, I just made enough for me, but you can double or triple at your leisure.

fresh purple sage leaves

Zürcher geschnetzeltes with chicken
Adapted from traditional Zürcher geschnetzeltes.

1/2 lb chicken, skinned (about 1 chicken breast or 2 thighs)
flour to coat
butter AND olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
10 sage leaves
12-14 large button or brown mushrooms
1/2-2/3 cup of dry white wine (enough to deglaze)
2/3 cup cream
salt, pepper, paprika

Start by slicing a chicken breast (or whatever cut you like--deboned thighs would certainly be easier to keep moist here!) into pieces about 3/4-inch thick. Toss to coat in a couple tablespoons of flour, tapping off any excess.

Heat a wide, heavy-bottomed saute pan on high. Add a pat of butter and a small slug of olive oil. When the butter foams, add your chicken pieces in one layer. Sear quickly for about three to five minutes per side. While you're waiting, cut your onion into thin half-moons and your garlic into slices. Slice your sage leaves into thin strips, reserving a few leaves for garnish.

When your chicken has a beautiful golden-brown crust on both sides, remove to a plate. Don't worry about the meat being fully cooked at this point! You just want a nice sear.

Turn the heat down a touch, add another bit of butter and olive oil to your pan, and throw in your onion, garlic, and sage. Saute for about five minutes, or until the onion has begun to soften.

sauteed onions and mushrooms for Zürcher geschnetzeltes with chicken

Cut your mushrooms into wide slices and add them to the pan with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Then add your wine to the pan, stirring to deglaze. Finally, add your pieces of chicken and their juices, as well as some salt, pepper, and paprika.

Mix everything together and cook until your chicken is done, being careful not to overcook. Mine was ready in about five minutes, but the timing is going to depend on exactly how big your pieces are. Cut a thick piece in half to check.

At the last minute, add your cream to the pan. Stir together and cook for another minute, or until warmed through and just beginning to bubble.

Zürcher geschnetzeltes with chicken

Voila! A beautiful dish of tender chicken and mushrooms in a savory cream sauce! Serve over the noodle, potato, or grain of your choice, or just fill up a bowl and eat it by itself.

You clearly want a green vegetable of some type on the side if you can possibly swing it. My first choice would be a big pile of simple steamed spinach with butter and salt. I wouldn't say no to a big spoonful of baby peas, either. And a big crispy salad is always a nice contrast. It's all good--just get something green in your face.

This was rich enough that I couldn't eat it all at once, and thus I can report that it's also excellent eaten cold out of the fridge the next morning. Hooray, leftovers for breakfast!

Zürcher geschnetzeltes with chicken

What thick, hearty stovetop dinners are warming you up this winter?

12 February 2014

Raspberry oat thumbprint cookies

Raspberry oat thumbprint cookies

Valentine's day has never been a thing at our house. Mostly we just try to remember not to go out to dinner, because there's nothing worse than fighting through a massive crowd of people on dates for some mediocre pasta and a fourteen dollar cocktail. This year the holiday falls on a Friday, which will make the situation that much worse. Dinner at home--which is almost 100% likely to be something casual like burritos--is a much better plan.

But that doesn't mean you have to eschew celebrating if you don't want to. For example, you can have some cookies after you have your burritos. Hooray! Cookies!

I decided to give jam-filled cookies a try, both because I had somehow never made them before (I know, right?) and because a jar of raspberry jam was plaintively calling my name from the refrigerator. And what goes better with raspberries than oats? Cream, maybe, but that's a project for actual non-jam summer raspberries. So I broke out some rolled oats, mixed them up with whole wheat flour, and started baking. The results were excellent: tender and delicious, with a crisp cinnamon-sugar coating and a sweet center.

This dough is fairly sticky, so be sure to wet your hands as needed while shaping your cookies. Err on the side of wide rather than deep jam indentations, as the dough will spread in the oven but the jam will not. This will also help you avoid the foul specter of jam leaking out the bottom of your cookie.

Also, I am evidently incapable of ever typing the word "thumbprint" correctly on the first try. Go me!

Raspberry oat thumbprint cookies

Raspberry oat thumbprint cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
cinnamon sugar to roll
raspberry jam to fill

Start by preheating your oven to 350F and lining your baking sheets with parchment or silicon mats.

Cream together your butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add your egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together your flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the wet mixture in batches, beating together with a wooden spoon. Stir in the rolled oats.

With wet hands, roll your dough into small balls. Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar (or don't, if you prefer--these are good either way) and put them on your prepared baking sheet. Make an indentation in each cookie with your thumb. Fill with jam.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until set and just brown around the edges. My cookies were perfect at 12 minutes exactly. Give them a minute or two to stabilize before removing them to a rack to cool.

This makes about 2 dozen delightful cookies that you can merrily scarf down while drinking a big mug of tea.

What are you baking this week?

10 February 2014

Red curry with chickpeas, carrot, and kale

Red curry with chickpeas, carrot, and kale

Coconut milk curries have become one of my favorite things ever to cook. As long as you have the main ingredients--by which I mean coconut milk and curry paste--you can pretty much curry anything in your kitchen. Meat, beans, soy; broccoli, cabbage, squash, mushrooms: nearly any combination of protein and vegetable can make a delicious curry.

Do you have some black-eyed peas and cauliflower sitting around? Curry. How about a package of tofu and a bag of frozen peas? Curry. Dry red lentils and a bunch of spinach? You'll need to add some cooking liquid and make it into a rich soup, but it's still curry.

I usually make red curry for a couple reasons. First, we like spice, which rules out a gentle yellow or masaman curry. Second, the green curry paste at our usual grocery store contains shrimp, which is a problem in a half vegetarian household. I could solve this if I made my own curry paste, but that hasn't happened yet, so. Red curry it is.

On this particular occasion, I broke out a can of chickpeas and pulled some carrots and kale out of the crisper. Twenty minutes later, voila! A rich, satisfying, and spicy vegan dinner.

Red curry with chickpeas, carrot, and kale

Red curry with chickpeas, carrot, and kale

peanut oil/flavorless oil of your choice
1 onion
1-inch chunk ginger
2-3 carrots
1 can/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup coconut milk
1+ bunch kale
2-3 tbsp Thai red curry paste
rice/etc to serve

Start by putting your rice on to cook. If you're making something quicker, like instant couscous or noodles, you can wait until your curry is almost done. Use your judgement.

OKAY. For the actual curry, start by warming a slug of peanut oil in a wide saute pan. Add a chunked onion, stir, and let soften while you peel (use the spoon trick) and finely mince a piece of ginger.

Add your ginger and a pinch of salt to the onions. Stir everything together and continue to cook while you wash, scrub, and cut your carrots into 3/4-inch-thick chunks. When your onions have started to turn translucent, dump in your carrots. Give them about five minutes, stirring occasionally, before you add your drained and rinsed chickpeas.

Shake your coconut milk well before pouring it into the pan. Add your curry paste and stir to combine. The amount here will depend on your spice tolerance. If you like hot and spicy dishes, add more curry paste; if not, add less. It's all good.

Bring everything up to a gentle boil, lid, reduce the heat, and let simmer five minutes. This will give your carrots a chance to cook through and your chickpeas a chance to absorb the spices.

While you're waiting, wash your kale, pull the leaves off the stems, and roughly chop them up. When your carrots are just tender, add your kale to the pan and stir. Put the lid aside and cook for another three or four minutes, or until the kale is completely wilted and the sauce has reduced to your desired thickness. You can always add a touch of water if it gets too thick.

Taste and correct seasonings, and you're done! Serve with rice or your choice of grain device. You can garnish with chopped green onion, cilantro, or basil if you so desire. Cut up a couple oranges and you have a complete dinner.

This served two of us easily, and left plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day besides. Yay, lunch!

What's your favorite kind of curry?

06 February 2014

Leftovers, the freezer, and dinner

Leftovers, the freezer, and dinner: kale salad, sweet potato, chicken sausage, and jalapeno cornbread

Here's what we had for dinner this Tuesday. I had gotten a crown put on that afternoon, so my face was numb up into the scalp, and I really didn't want to make any effort to cook whatever. John got home later than usual after a send-off for a departing colleague. And yet we sat down to eat full, satisfying plates filled with four different dishes after maybe twenty minutes total in the kitchen. How? Through the magic of leftovers.

I made the kale salad and baked the cornbread on Monday night. The sweet potatoes were waiting in the freezer. The only things not actively left over were our sausages--chicken and sun-dried tomato for me, vegetarian andouille for John--and mine were in the freezer for long-term consumption nonetheless.

We had an excellent dinner, and you can too.

Mashed sweet potatoes mirepoix

I made these mashed sweet potatoes mirepoix for Thanksgiving and froze them for an occasion just like this. To warm them up, I popped them out of their container in one big frozen brick, deposited them in a saucepan with a splash of water, added a lid, and put the pan over medium-high heat. After fifteen minutes, everything was entirely hot. I took the lid off the pot, lowered the heat, and let the extra liquid steam off before serving. Zero effort; 100% flavor.

raw kale salad with toasted almonds

The kale salad was super simple: raw kale massaged with vinaigrette. The dressing was just olive oil, chive blossom vinegar, dijon mustard, and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Since I'd dressed the salad the night before, I didn't need to do anything to the greens but pile them on the plate.

That's right! Raw kale salads do not suffer when kept overnight in their dressing. I don't know about you, but I basically had my jaw on the floor when I realized this. Leftover salad that isn't a mass of sad brown goo! How could this be? We've eaten WAY more winter salad since then, which should come as no surprise.

So I chopped up the almonds for last-minute garnish, and that was it. Beautiful, delicious salad!

whole wheat jalapeno cornbread with sun-dried tomato chicken sausage

The cornbread was actually a double shot of food preservation goodness. It was left over from the night before, yes, but guess where the jalapenos came from? That's right--I used the last of a jar of my pickled garden jalapenos. Hooray! I threw a couple pieces in the toaster oven to warm through before serving, and that was it.

All I actually had to cook were our sausages, which were easy enough. Defrost in hot water, slice, brown on both sides in separate frying pans, and serve. Five minutes on the heat and they were done.

And that's how we were able to finish our dinners and be ready to relax by 7 pm on a weeknight.

Using leftovers: a tiny guide

  • It's clearly a good idea to make enough of certain dishes to just eat them again the next day. Baked goods, casseroles, a whole roast: you can just eat these with minimal effort. This is a particularly good plan if you pack a lunch for work.
  • If you can freeze your leftovers, do it! That way you'll have an emergency backup, but you won't get sick of a particular dish after eating it three days in a row. Soup, tomato sauce, and beans work really well in the freezer.
  • Simple reheating methods keep food tasting fresh and delicious. Avoid the microwave unless you're heating something like soup, with no texture issue to consider. Stovetop or toaster oven reheats are well worth the minimal effort.
  • If your leftovers are supposed to be eaten cold, that's all the better. Things like grain salads are a good idea here.
  • Minor bits of garnish can go a long way toward making leftover dishes seem brand-new. Nuts, ground pepper, snipped herbs, hot sauce, yogurt--anything that sounds good to you can work.
  • And, although this doesn't apply in this particular story, you can always repurpose leftover components into entirely new dishes. Precooked rice, vegetables, beans, or meat are all super useful when you're trying to assemble a salad, burrito, or omelet in no time flat.

How do you use your leftovers? What other tips and tricks work well for you?

03 February 2014

Rosemary lemon gin sour

Rosemary lemon gin sour

The lemon tree next door has been dropping fruit into our driveway for several weeks now. What better way to use up both zest and juice than in a delightful cocktail?

My cocktail of choice is the sour. (See: the Fields of Gold, the Fitzgerald.) A basic sour recipe goes like this: combine 2 oz of the liquor of your choice with .75 oz of lemon juice and .75 oz of simple syrup. It's super easy to switch it up, either by trying different kinds of liquor or by flavoring your syrup. So I decided to make a gin sour and punch up my syrup with extra lemon and a branch of rosemary. The result was tangy, slightly sweet, and herbaceous: perfect.

My simple syrup recipe makes a very small batch, which I prefer because sugar syrups don't tend to last much longer than a week or so in the refrigerator. It's definitely easy to double or triple if you want to make a big batch of cocktails, though. The color is also really pretty--almost like a very light olive oil.

Keep in mind that your zest should be free of bitter pith. I read about removing extra pith from zest on a blog a few days ago, and I can't find it ANYWHERE now, but. Just use a spoon to scrape off any pith: totally easy and 100% effective. Why didn't I think of it before? Thank you, whoever mentioned this!

Rosemary lemon gin sour

2 oz gin
.75 oz rosemary lemon simple syrup (see below)
.75 ox lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 2-3 minutes, or as long as you can stand it. Strain into an ice-filled cocktail glass of your choice, garnish with a strip of zest or rosemary sprig if you so desire, and drink.

rosemary lemon simple syrup

Rosemary lemon simple syrup

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 large sprig rosemary
zest of 2-3 lemons

Combine your sugar and water in a small saucepan. Chop your rosemary roughly and add it to the pan. Zest your lemons, taking care to avoid the white pith. Scrape with a spoon to remove any large bits of pith before you add your zest to the pan.

Bring the pan to a gentle simmer over medium heat, swirling occasionally. When all the sugar has dissolved, lid the pan, turn off the heat, and let steep for 30 to 45 minutes.

Strain your finished syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and cool completely before using.

What's your drink of choice this month?