Nosh: Orange Salsa

It’s summer!  And summertime, to me, means salsatime!

Actually, who am I kidding?  Any time to me means salsatime.  I not-kiddingly joke that it’s one of my major food groups (you’ve got your grains, your fruits and vegetables, your salsas…).  What can I say?  I like the spicy.

This recipe for orange salsa is kind of a workhorse recipe; you can interchange things at will and you’ll get good results.  Do you have a mango hanging around and want to use that?  Make mango-orange salsa.  Are you at a loss for what to do with peaches?  Sub in peaches instead of oranges and have peach salsa.  It’s also a great recipe for a raw tomato salsa, just make sure you seed the tomatoes before you use them.  It should take you about forty minutes or so to put it all together, dependent on how comfortable you are cutting things into a small dice and whether or not you have a glass of wine you wander over to intermittently for refreshment.

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 oranges, but normal-sized oranges, not those giant mutant size-of-a-baby’s-head-type oranges and their zest
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 jalapeño (or some other kind of spicy pepper; I used a cheery red mirasol pepper)
  • 1 medium onion (I opted for a red onion; theoretically you should try to lean toward a sweet onion but ultimately, use whatever you’ve got)
  • 1-2 scallions, whites and greens
  • 1/4 c cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (or possibly less, depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 big handful of cilantro, cleaned and chopped (I admit, I have *never* measured cilantro for this, if you must, start with 1/4 c packed and see if you want more or less)
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, and I say this in the interest of full disclosure: accept that when you cut the oranges, you’re going to get messy.  They are juicy.  Juice runs.  Make sure you cut your oranges on a cutting board with a blood gutter that can contain a runny mess (or put a folded towel under one end of the cutting board so that the board will slightly tilt into the sink, if you don’t have a cutting board with a gutter), or you’ll be taking a break every few minutes to wipe off the juice running onto your countertops and the floor.

Zest your oranges and the lime.  You won’t need the lime flesh or juice, so put the zested fruit back into your fridge for another use.  Scoop up all the zest and put it in a  mixing bowl.

I got'cher zest riiiiiiight...heeeeere...

I got’cher zest riiiiiiight…heeeeere…

And in all seriousness if you ever intend to zest a fruit in all your life and don’t have a microplane?  Get thee to a kitchen supply store!  Works like a charm.  Plus, it’s good for ginger, garlic, nutmeg, grating cheese (and the cheese grates all nice and…well, “fluffy” is the best way to describe it, and who wouldn’t want some fluffy cheese?).

And I digress.  Once you zest, you’re going to get to work on your oranges.

The easiest way I’ve found to cut the oranges is to slice them into manageable bits, trim off the peel and start to cut them into smaller bits.

IMG_0028-003

See what I mean about the juice? I had the board positioned so the juice ran into the sink.

While the objective is to get rid of the hard, gnarly, bitter membrane in the middle of the oranges and most of the pith surrounding the oranges, you don’t have to get crazy and make orange supremes.  Just slice them into rounds, trim them, cut them nice and small, pull out the central membrane and toss them right in your mixing bowl. Then cut the garlic and onion into a fairly small dice; the onions should be no more than a half-inch dice, because who wants to bite into a huge chunk of raw onion?

See?  Try to keep the pieces fairly small.

See? Try to keep the pieces fairly small.

Slice the scallions into rounds.  I love the contrast between the sweet onions and the brisk, fresh bite of the green ones.  Scallions can wildly vary in size, which is why I say use 1-2.  Use enough to make you happy; it’s your kitchen, and your salsa.  Cut the jalapeño in half lengthwise and–more praise for my favorite kitchen multitasker–scrape a teaspoon along the inside to de-seed the pepper and take out the heat.  Who needs to worry about tricky knife skills when a spoon will do the job?  Or, you know, don’t take out the seeds and keep it nice and spicy-hot.

Guess what I did.

Dice the pepper into a small dice and toss all the diced veggies into your mixing bowl.  Then add the really fun stuff–the vinegar, cumin, honey, cilantro, salt and pepper.

All will soon meld into one cohesive, salsatastic whole.

All will soon meld into one cohesive, salsatastic whole.

Mix.  Taste.  Reseason if necessary, though experience has taught me that this salsa is best if it sits for a few hours and even overnight.  The flavors will mingle, the heat from the peppers will become less in-yer-face, and it will all mellow into a beautiful, nuanced, cohesive unit of salsa that is simultaneously fruity and savory and smoky and tart.  Have it with chips to get a salt-kick as well.

Time to get my snack on!

Time to get my snack on!

I often hope that with food this good hanging around, it will distract me from biting my nails.  Damn bad habits.

This salsa goes incredibly well with chicken burritos, for the record.  Happy salsa season!

Nosh: Chapatis (Spiced Flatbread)

Q:  Do you know how hard it can be to find a decent flatbread?

A:  It’s pretty difficult.  They’re either so overly-full of preservatives and additives to keep them pliable that their texture turns almost–weirdly–chalky, or the manufacturers think the right thing to do is coat them in some gooey spray oil, so you pull them out of the bag and immediately have to wipe off your fingers.  Yuck.

Related Q: Do you know how easy it is to make a decent flatbread?

Related A:  It’s actually quite easy.

So, chapatis.

To be fair, this is probably an Americanized version of the noble chapati and thanks to this and one other flatbread recipe I’ve played with in the past, I’m invested in learning more.  Full revelation: I should have used whole wheat flour (and will next time), and I probably could have rolled it out a little bit thinner (note to self: walk the five feet to the pantry and grab the rolling pin).  But.  This is an easy jumping-off point into the world of flatbreads, full of basic technique with a delicious outcome, so start here and then see what else you can do.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup flour (feel free to use whole wheat flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (or coriander or ground fennel or nigella)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic (2, 3, 4 cloves finely chopped, who’s counting?)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons oil (olive oil has the best taste, but use what you have)

First, combine the flour, salt, cumin and garlic in a bowl.

Yeah, just like that, only mixed up.

Yeah, just like this, only mixed up.

Make a well with the flour mixture–this facilitates the liquids incorporating into the dry ingredients quickly and evenly, so you don’t get dry patches or lumps and end up overworking your dough in order to thoroughly mix it–and put in your water and oil.

Stir the water and oil into the flour, it will incorporate quickly.

Stir the water and oil into the flour, it will incorporate quickly.

Knead your dough for 2-3 minutes, until it is a beautiful, soft, cohesive ball.

Dough, ready to rest a while.

Dough, ready to rest a while.

Let your dough sit in a warm, draft-free place for about a half an hour.  Before you go and panic: where could that be?  Where can I put it?  Yes, a cabinet will do nicely.  But I like to put my dough in my oven (as long as I’m not using it, of course).  You know it’s draft-free.  It’s about as safe and untouched as it’s going to get.  Bugs won’t get it, the cat won’t be able to get it.  (As an aside, does anyone else have a cat that goes berserk over raw dough?  No, just me?  Okay.)  Cover it with a lint-free cloth (a towel that isn’t terry cloth, or a cloth napkin) and leave it alone for the next thirty minutes.

Then?

Divide your dough in quarters and roll out a ball until it’s nice and thin.  Don’t try and cut corners (like I did) and stretch them flat with your hand, because it won’t get it quite as thin as they should be.  Once you have a nice flat disc of dough, put it in a hot pan.  It’s important to remember that you’re not frying the bread; you’re going to let the oil you’ve already added to the dough be your browning agent, so don’t put any oil in the pan.

One chapati, coming up!

One chapati, coming up!

The first side will probably take two minutes or so to cook.  You’ll see that the dough will look less “wet” on the side facing up.  The cooked side should have some lovely charring from the pan, which is perfect.  Flip it and cook it for another minute or so, until you’ve got charring on the other side as well.

Ready for dinner!

Ready for dinner!

Traditionally, these are coated in some kind of butter or ghee as soon as they’re cooked, but since I was planning to serve them with a curry with a lovely sauce, I figured I could hold off on the butter.  They were wonderful.  Chewy and dense and crisp all at once, they brought a starch to the table that was thoughtful and fun.  And easy.  I cooked them while I was cooking the rest of my dinner, so they barely added any time to my cooking at all.

Dinner, voila! She is served.

Dinner, voila! It is served.

We served this with Thai Spinach-Potato Curry and a salad with fresh blackberry vinaigrette.  Yes, that’s sauteed asparagus you see, too, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

Happy flatbreads!  Let me know how you like it.

~XOT

Nosh: Thai Spinach-Potato Curry

Here’s what it’s currently too hot to do in my neck o’ the woods:

  • Bake
  • Roast
  • Move more than five feet away from the couch
  • Which is then gross, because you spend all your time sweating into your couch
  • I hate summer

But a girl’s gotta eat, and for a hungry girl like me that ain’t no joke.

For the last few days I’ve been craving some sort of vaguely Asian-ish food that isn’t as heavy or fried or sugary as Americanized Chinese food can be, and I haven’t been willing to hit up a restaurant because I’m a) a little tired of the local restaurants (remember, I live in a small town, so local restaurants are limited) and b) who wants to put on pants when it’s this hot?

I dug through some cookbooks because yesterday was “avoid the computer for the bulk of the day” day and found a recipe for potato-spinach Thai curry and I really only needed a few things that could be acquired with a trip to the grocery store.  Said trip was more like a covert raiding party–get in, get the stuff, get back home and into the AC before dissolving into a puddle of lip balm and flip flops–but it got the job done, sticky humid heat be damned.

It’s remarkable I survived in Texas.

Anyway.  Here’s what I used.

  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2-inch ginger, finely chopped (or galangal if you have access to it, which I do not so purists, give me a break because I have to work with the resources available)
  • 1 piece of lemongrass, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1 jalapeno (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric (be careful not to get this on your clothes or they’ll be yellow forever)
  • 1 can coconut milk (I highly recommend using “light” coconut milk; the taste is still rich, but it cuts nearly 2/3 of the fat and calories that you’d get from regular coconut milk)
  • 1 large potato, up to 1 lb, cut in 3/4 inch cubes
  • Enough vegetable stock to make your sauce the consistency you’d like
  • 2 tsp honey/brown sugar/agave nectar
  • 7 oz spinach/arugula/chard/whatever kind of leafy green you prefer, but if you use something with a tougher rib (chard, kale) make sure the rib is removed
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • Oil, salt, pepper…the usual suspects
  • Cilantro, thinly sliced shallots, and crumbled unsalted peanuts for garnish (all entirely optional)

First: Thinly slice your onions and start their browning.  You don’t need to pay relentless attention to them, just show them some love and give them a stir every so often.    They’ll take a while to caramelize so you should start them early but because they’re a garnish, once they’re browned they can sit quietly on the sidelines until you’re ready to eat.

Get these babies nice and rich and sweet and dark brown.

Get these babies nice and rich and sweet and dark brown.

Look at that, you’ve already got part of it started!

Next, get your spices ready.  The cookbook says to finely chop the garlic, lemongrass and ginger/galangal and grind them together with the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle until they’re a smooth paste.

I've always loved the look of coriander seeds.

I’ve always loved the look of coriander seeds.

But here’s the thing: that’s a ton of work.  I only had arm enough to take it so far before I decided I was through and declared it “uh…yeah, sure…that’s smooth”, though I did make sure that at least all of the coriander seeds were crushed open and fragrant.  So if you neeeeeeeed to process this into a paste and have the appropriately sized food processor then by all means do so.  Otherwise, just crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle and finely chop the rest.

How do you finely chop ginger? Planks->sticks->cubes, works every time.

How do you finely chop ginger? Planks->sticks->cubes, works every time.

Cut your jalapeno in half and seed it if you want, or cut it into thin slices with the seeds fully attached, depending on how much heat you want.  (Or leave out the jalapeno entirely, it’s your kitchen!)  From here, the recipe progresses pretty quickly.  Saute the garlic-ginger-lemongrass-coriander seed combination and jalapeno at a medium heat for 30 seconds or so, to create a nice base.  Add the curry paste and the turmeric and let them cook for a minute or two, then add the coconut milk.  You can add as much coconut milk as you’d like so long as you put in at least half the can; I put in the whole can because what the heck am I going to do with leftover coconut milk?  However much you put in, stand back in amazement as the half teaspoon of turmeric totally wins over two teaspoons of red chili paste in the battle for color-of-the-curry supremacy.  Bring it to a boil.

If turmeric were a supervillain, its dastardly plan would be to turn the whole world yellow.

If turmeric were a supervillain, its dastardly plan would be to turn the whole world yellow.

Hey, how are those onions doing?  Don’t forget to check them.

Once it’s rolling along, add the potatoes, the honey and some veggie stock.  I used one of those box-stocks and probably put in about a cup’s worth.  I wouldn’t recommend getting too stock-crazy because you do want the sauce to have some body to it; you’re making curry, not soup.  Let the potatoes simmer for a few minutes; check them at 10 minutes and I’d be surprised if you need to let them cook as long as 15.  While they’re cooking, clean and chop your cilantro and shallots and shell your peanuts.

When the potatoes are nearly tender, add in your choice of leafy green–I used spinach and arugula–and let them wilt into the curry.  Check your seasonings and add salt (or if you’re feeling completely devil-may-care, soy sauce) and pepper to taste.  Finish with the juice from a half a lime.  Top each individual serving with onions, cilantro, raw shallots and peanuts, as you will.

We mixed our ethnic foods at the table (see: devil-may-care) and served this with chapatis, sauteed asparagus and a salad with blackberry vinaigrette.   Healthy.  Delicious.  Really easy.  And it’s flexible!  If you want to make this with chicken, just saute some chicken before adding the ginger-garlic mix, and then follow the above.  Saute the garlic-ginger in the chicken drippings for extra yum, and use chicken stock instead of vegetable.  Or toss in some tofu at the end if you want to both incorporate a protein and keep it vegetarian.  Whatever, it’s all good.

This, friends, is good eating on a hot summer's day.

This, friends, is good eating on a hot summer’s day.

Enjoy!  See you ’round the kitchen!

Nosh: Savory Rhubarb-Onion Tart

Did you know you can eat rhubarb in something other than a pie or cobbler or dessert or sugary syrup?

…waiting…

Yes, way!

I was in the local farmers’ market this past Wednesday and saw some gorgeous rhubarb, and it was so pretty and pinkish that I just wanted to play with it (because you CAN play with your food), but I’m really not much of a dessert eater, despite my activities at Christmastime which may point to the contrary.

Do NOT get in the way of my holiday baking.  And I digress.

So there I was, facing down a gorgeous display of rhubarb.  Frankly…what’s a girl to do?

Is it me, or do the tops of the rhubarb look like duck feet?

Is it me, or do the tops of the rhubarb look like duck feet?

Here’s a few things about rhubarb:

It is naturally very tart, sort of like a SweeTart without the sweet, but it’s not so tart that it’s all bitter and no benefit.  I like to think of it as bracingly fruity.  Which, yeah OK, leads naturally to its pairing with strawberries and such, but you’re talking to the girl who cooks with fruit on a regular basis, so managing a fruity taste ain’t no thing.

Even though, to keep the record straight, rhubarb is not a fruit.  It is a vegetable, closely related to sorrel, which is a leaf we tend not to eat much in the US even though it’s good for you!  It helps treat scurvy.

Rhubarb is a great source of calcium, if you’re looking for calcium sources that aren’t dairy.

The leaves ARE poisonous. They contain high concentrations of oxalic acid crystals.  These can cause the tongue and throat to swell, preventing breathing.  So while the ends of the leaves may look like adorable duck’s feet, do us all a favor and throw them away before you kill yourself, mmmkay?  Thanks.

So anyway, here’s what you need.

  • 2 onions, one red, one yellow.  Or whatever.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, or to taste
  • 5 stalks of rhubarb without leaves, which worked out to about two cups when chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon summer savory OR thyme OR marjoram
  • 1/2 c raisins
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 c vegetable stock, plus more as needed
  • 8 (or so) Brussels sprouts, sliced thin
  • 2-3 oz goat cheese
  • 2 sheets of  puff pastry dough, defrosted (or enough to fill whatever receptacle you’d like to cook this in)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400°.

Pull out your dough and let it defrost or, if it’s defrosted, set it on a parchment-lined baking sheet or silicone baking mat.  Take a fork and dock the dough (translation: poke it repeatedly) everywhere except for the inch or so that makes the border of your dough.  Docking prevents the dough from puffing with steam, so the body of this tart will stay flat but the border will puff up and be all nice and pretty.

Docked. Ready. Easy? Yep.

Docked. Ready. Easy? Yep..

The dough is ready.  Put it aside.  Some instructions recommend chilling your dough.  I left mine on the counter until I was ready to use it, and it worked out fine.

Start prepping the vegetables.  I cut the onions in half-moons, the garlic in wide slices and the rhubarb in simple chunks, largely because I didn’t feel like doing much chopping.  What?  It was getting late, I didn’t want to fuss.

Just because I heart cooking doesn’ t mean I don’t have the same frustrations and limitations, folks.

Start the onions first to get them nice and soft and sweet and on the road to golden, then add the garlic, summer savory (which I just bought a big bag of before realizing I had it growing in abundance in my garden, so be prepared to hear a lot about summer savory in the upcoming months) (p.s. I hear it’s great in the garden for guarding against the Mexican bean beetle), mustard seeds, and some salt and pepper.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the foundation for just about any good meal.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the foundation for just about any good meal.

Give the onions and garlic and seasonings a few minutes to mingle, then add the rhubarb and maybe another shot of some fresh-ground pepper, because I can’t help myself.

This ain't yo mamma's rhubarb.

This ain’t yo mamma’s rhubarb.

Add in the broth, honey and raisins, and let this hang out for a few minutes.  Feel free to add in some more broth if needed; I certainly added more as the veggies cooked into each other, and you want the raisins to plump up while the rhubarb cooks down.  Complicated, I know, with that crazy chemistry.  And yet that is what happens.

So.

Let the raisins plump, the rhubarb break down, and the onions soften until you have one lovely, balanced, silky, almost creamy mass of sweet and tart and savory goodness.  It will be the consistency of a chunky jam. Let the onion/rhubarb mix cool for a few minutes; if you use a puff pastry base you want to avoid putting screaming hot food on a dough made largely of shortening.  While this is cooking and cooling you could brown your Brussels sprouts in a hot pan for a minute, like I did…

How now, brown sprout?

How now, brown sprout?

…but in the interests of full disclosure, I feel compelled to tell you I made more work for myself.  The sprouts were nice and crusty and delicious on the finished product, but by the end they sort of looked like brown confetti.  Baking the tart in the oven baked the sprouts too, which only makes sense.  So don’t brown the sprouts if you don’t feel like it, just sprinkle them on top of the onion/rhubarb mixture when the time comes, and let the oven do the work for you.

Anyway.

You’ve got your rolled out and docked dough. You’ve got your cooked and somewhat cooled onion and rhubarb mix.  You have thinly sliced Brussels sprouts that have either been pre-browned, or not.  So…now what?

Assemble!

That's what I'm talking about!

That’s what I’m talking about!

Put down a layer of onion/rhubarb mix and then top it with the sprouts.  Yum right from the start!  When you top it with crumbled goat cheese it becomes even more of a fabulous idea, inching closer to a fabulous reality with every crumbly bit of cheese.  Then put this li’l beauty right into your preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  At the end of 20 minutes, pull it out and give it a look.  Rotate it if necessary, drop the oven temperature to 350°, and put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes or so until it becomes golden brown and puffy in the right places.

Golden. Poofy. Savory. #win

Golden. Poofy. Savory. #win

We served this with some grilled turnips, roasted kale and a grilled romaine salad.  When you fill a puff pastry with things that aren’t cream and sugar based…well, thanks to its fat content I can’t ever say that puff pastry is good for you, but it’s not as bad for you as you might fear.  And it’s a delicious, rich treat, the richness of which keeps massive eating in check.  And?  It’s fun!

IMG_0037-001

Flaky on the top, rich and savory on the bottom. The pastry helps drive this dish that much further away from rhubarb’s usual use in desserts.

The rhubarb makes this dish tart and silky, while the onions and garlic deliver a savory balance that we don’t often look for with rhubarb.  It’s understandable why we tend to pair it with fruit–and that is, without a doubt, delicious–but there are other ways to mellow rhubarb’s bright tartness that don’t involve massive amounts of sugar.

I’ve also seen rhubarb cooked as a springtime pasta sauce (perhaps next on my playing-with-rhubarb list) and a chutney, but haven’t seen too many other examples of how to cook savory rhubarb.  I’d love to hear from other rhubarb fans out there: how do you like to cook this often underappreciated vegetable?

Roasted Red Pepper-Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

During one of my semi-annual trips to visit my old Russian professor in the Boston area, George and I got to experience the red pepper dip known as muhammara for the first time.

Oh. Em. Geeeeee.

Amazing.  It was deeply flavored and fruity and sweet and spicy and roasty and redolent of garlic and rich, toasted walnuts.  All that in one dish?  Yeah!  I knew after trying it that my mission (which I chose to accept) was to learn how to make it myself, since my local supermarket sure isn’t carrying pre-packaged muhammara.  Happily, they carry all components.  After years of tasting and experimentation (a rough job, I know), I can finally say neener neener, made it myself, and celebrate one more weirdo recipe in the repertoire.

Here’s what I used:

  • 2 fresh roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded, plus the liquor they exude after roasting
  • 2/3 cup (ish) plain bread crumbs (or maybe not as much, or maybe more; it depends on what you need to achieve the right texture)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 or 3 or 4 garlic cloves, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses (check the ubiquitously dubbed “international” section of your grocery store)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or none, or more, purely to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste (if you use pre-roasted peppers, be sure to go easy on the salt since they will be saltier than if you roast them yourself)
  • olive oil for garnish

The first thing to do is roast the peppers.  (If you are pressed for time you surely may use jarred or frozen roasted peppers.  Just drain or defrost them and make sure they’re peeled and seeded.)  There are two different camps surrounding roasted peppers; you can char them at high heat just so the skins blister off, but the flesh of the peppers really won’t cook.  Or, you could roast them at a lower heat so the peppers cook thoroughly.  It depends on what you want to achieve.  I chose to roast the peppers at a lower, slower heat (400°, 20 minutes, turn once, back in the oven for 20 more minutes) since I wanted them to be softer and more amenable to become a dip, and not as dependent on a fatty olive oil added at the end to provide a soft texture.  Plus, I love the liquid they exude.

Mmmm, peppery goodness.

Mmmm, silky pepper goodness.

See that golden liquor oozing out among the roasted peppers?  That’s pure concentrated pepper sweetness, and it would be a crime to not include that in your dish; it is TOO GOOD.  Once the peppers are roasted and cooled  (in a heat-proof bowl that’s covered with plastic wrap, so the skins will steam apart from the flesh, making your job that much easier), peel them, pull out the stems and seeds, put the roasted pepper flesh into a food processor and strain that pepper liquor into your food processor as well.  You won’t regret it.  If you use jarred or frozen peppers, you won’t have this, and you’ll need to resist the temptation to use the liquid from the jar.  It’s probably going to be too salty and/or vinegary to be of much use; you can throw in a splash of cranberry juice or broth or water if you want to get a little extra liquid rolling around in your dip.

While the peppers are roasting, measure out your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (meaning, one with no oil in it) and let it start warming over a medium heat.  Don’t wander too far away since it won’t take long for the walnuts to start to brown and once they’re brown they’re ready to burn.  Don’t let that happen.  Also, you need at least 1/3 cup, but make 1/2.  You may need more than the third, depending on how soft (or not) the dip is when you first blend it, and walnuts will help add structure.  Besides, the temptation to snack on fresh-roasted walnuts is great, and you wouldn’t want to short the muhammara.  I speak from experience here.

And so.  Put all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor; remember to start with 1/3 cup each of bread crumbs and walnuts, and then taste test your muhammara so you may appropriately tinker.

Give it a whirl!

Give it a whirl!

Blend, scrape down the food processor bowl, taste.  Repeat.  Bread crumbs and walnuts will provide structure so if your dip is too runny, add in a little bit more of one or the other (or both!) at a time.  You’ll want it to be firm yet scoopable, like a really thick hummus.  Scoop it into a bowl, drizzle it with a little olive oil for a garnish and serve with bread or crackers or pita wedges.

Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

Trust me, once you try this you’ll want it again.  And again.  And again.  Bonus: it’s easy!  Enjoy.  xoxo

Nosh: Fiery Onion Relish

One of the things I make regularly to keep around the house are pickled onions of one sort or another.  Pickled onions are quick and easy to make and add snap to just about anything.  Hummus and pita.  Sandwiches.  Salads.  Burritos!  Burgers.  Whatever works.  I’ll put these things on pretty much anything.  But I usually make them super-super simple, with just vinegar and sugar and salt.  Delicious, sure, but that doesn’t mean I won’t yield to the temptation of pickled onions made with the soft, smoky flavor of cumin and the bite of crushed red pepper.  Here’s what I used:

  • 3 onions, thinly sliced; I used two red and one sweet yellow, all medium-sized.  Use what you have and/or what you prefer.
  • 2-3 (or four, who’s counting?) garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Pepper to taste.
  • Oil for sauteeing; I used olive oil because that’s what I always use, but you can certainly use something like sunflower oil with a more neutral taste.
Allrighty!  Use whatever kind or combo of onions you prefer.

Allrighty! Let’s get cookin’.

And then?  This is straightforward cooking, folks, so brace yourself for nothing complicated.  Get a nice, big pan and heat it on medium heat, coat it with enough oil to lightly saute in, then add the onions into the oil and let them get soft and golden (it will take a few minutes, and stir them fairly frequently so you don’t let them start to brown.  You want them soft, not crisped).  Make sure you use a big enough pan!  One of the best pieces of advice I read recently was, “Food needs room to cook”, and it sounds simple but it’s fundamentally true.  Cram the onions into a too-small pan and they’ll steam and be weird and not develop their flavors as well as they should.  Plus, it’s a pain to try and cook tidily in a pan that’s too small.  Cooking’s not about getting messy and frustrated, it’s about  making beautiful meals.  Moving on.

Once the onions are golden, add the garlic, cumin, and mustard seeds.  Give it a stir and let them cook together for a minute.  Then add brown sugar, salt, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes.  Crack in as much fresh-ground pepper as you’d like.  Please note: this is really where you can make this dish yours.  Do you want it sweeter?  Add more brown sugar.  Hotter?  Or not hot at all?  Do what you will with the pepper flakes.  You certainly don’t have to use as much garlic as I do.  Do you think you want a less aggressive vinegar, or just want a different flavor?  Use cider vinegar or champagne vinegar.  You can play with your food.  This is where the magic happens, folks.

Simmer your beautiful concoction over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are even more beautifully golden.  They should be cooked through but still have a little bit of crunch, and they should be pungent and rich and brisk and snappy.  Just like any good pickle.

One of my favorites sights to see in the kitchen.

One of my favorites sights to see in the kitchen.

When the time comes–and by “the time” I mean, “the moment you can’t stand it any longer and have to feed”–remember that this sits wonderfully on a crostini with a little shot of parmesan on top.

If only I'd had some goat cheese, or ricotta.  Nom!

If only I’d had some goat cheese, or ricotta. Nom!

We served this with Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe Sauce and Parmesan-Roasted Acorn Squash, and holy pockets!  It was one of those meals where I couldn’t decide which component I liked best.  In the grand scheme of things, this is a very, very good problem to have.

Happy cooking!

Nosh: Homemade Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe Sauce

Just writing the words “orecchiette with broccoli rabe sauce” makes me happy.  I’m kind of a simple creature, really.  That’s all I need.  Well, that and having a plate of the actual food in front of me, because I am a hungry girl with a love for the delicious.

This brings me to orecchiette, which I love for many reasons.  Let me count the ways.  First, I love it for its name, which means “little ears” in Italian.  They are round, disc-like things that have depressions in the middle, kind of like ears do.  Adorbs!  Next, I love them because they are dense.  You don’t need to completely load them down with cheeses and fats to give orecchiette some heft because they’re made with semolina.  That’s a serious, no-nonsense flour, so they’re hearty and kind of chewy and you really know you’re digging in and eating something.  Finally, I love orecchiette because people are seemingly compelled to pair it with broccoli rabe, and I am down with anything that puts rapini in my trough.  And yes, broccoli rabe = rapini = these words are interchangeable.  I didn’t necessarily know that at first, and I’m still trying to figure out where broccolini fits into the broccoli family, but I digress.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a store in Lewisburg and its environs that sells orecchiette, so my feasting upon it has largely been confined to restaurants and/or bags brought back from forays into shops in nearby metro areas.  But who needs that?  I have thumbs, I can cook.  I’ll make my own!  Do note, please: if you’re interested in making a pasta with broccoli rabe sauce but have no interest in making orecchiette, I understand.  Skip this part, scroll down to where I talk about the super-easy sauce which comes together in about twenty minutes, and feel free to use a store-bought pasta.  Just make sure you choose something hearty, like whole-wheat rotini.  If you are interested in making the orecchiette as well, then read on!

First, mix your dry ingredients.  Orecchiette seems to favor a 2:1 ratio for its flour.  I used a cup of semolina flour and subsequently, I used a half-cup of AP flour.  Mix the flours together with some salt (for this recipe, no more than a quarter-teaspoon) and have a half-cup of warm-ish water handy, though you may not use all of it.  Also, keep a baking tray dusted with semolina flour nearby to serve as a landing pad for your shaped pasta.

Ready to roll.

Ready to roll.

Put in about half the water and start kneading, and add more water in small increments until you get a ball of dough that is cohesive and elastic.  You can put it in a stand mixer if you have one with a good dough hook, but I don’t.  I just did it by hand.  It only took about five minutes of work to get it from a gnarly pile of mess…

Trust me, it gets better.

Trust me, it gets better.  Though I really want to put googly eyes on this.

To beautiful elastic ball of dough.

OMG, I can't hardly believe it.

OMG, I can’t hardly believe it.

When researching orecchiette, I read a bunch of food blogs offering conflicting advice about how to proceed.  Let it rest, don’t let it rest.  Wrap it in plastic, don’t wrap it.  There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what to do, but here’s the thing: it’s never really a bad idea to let your dough rest, though it doesn’t seem that it would be criminal if you didn’t rest it.  I wanted to tend to some onions I had cooking on the stove so I took the opportunity to let it rest, and covered it with the bowl I originally measured out the flour in so my dough didn’t dry out in the open air.  If you need to park your dough for a little while, this is a perfect time to do so though if you’re going to let sit for more than a half an hour I’d at least lay down some plastic under it.  When you’re ready, cut your dough into eight pieces and roll those eight pieces out into doughy dowels about 18 inches long.  Ish.

That moment of perfect potential, when things can go great or really, really poorly.

That perfect moment of total potential, when things can go great or really, really poorly.

Cut them into pieces about an inch long and then?  Squish them into shape.  Again, in my research I read blogs that advised wrapping your dough around a spoon, or allowing the friction from the back of a dull knife to cause the pasta to curl, but then I thought, if I were some traditional Puglian nonna trying to make dinner, would I worry about ever-so-carefully fussing with the back of a knife?  Or would I use the most basic tools available to me and have at them with my thumbs?

Thumbs won.  I stuck my thumb in the middle of one piece of dough and shaped it with the other hand.  Voila, little indented pastas.  And they’re supposed to be rustic, so if they don’t look perfect, that’s fine.

Orecchiette!

Orecchiette!

Again, there are different schools of thought regarding what to do with your pasta now.  I’ve seen sites that advise you to let the shaped pasta sit at least one hour before cooking, I’ve seen sites that say you can use it right away.  I let mine sit–in the open, uncovered, just as you see it here–for the twenty minutes or so that it took me to prepare the sauce, and they didn’t dry out much and cooked super-super fast once I got them in boiling water.  So.  Once they’re at this point you can walk away and take care of other business.

For us, that other business is sauce.  This is pretty straightforward, and adapted from Mario Batali.  First, cut onions and garlic.  I used a TON of garlic because (regular readers, you know this) I am a junkie for garlic and am even more so when it comes to bitter greens, but of course you don’t have to use five cloves of garlic if you think that’s excessive.  This would also be a good time to get your pasta water started, so it’s boiling and ready by the time you want it.  If you’re using dried pasta, start the water before you cut a single bit of onion since you need to let the water boil and then let the pasta cook for eight or ten minutes before it’s ready to use.

What?  No, it's good for you!

What? No, garlic is good for you!

Let the onions and garlic saute in a very large pan at a medium heat with a dose of crushed red pepper to taste (I like the spicy) for five or six minutes, until they’re nice and soft and taking on that beautiful oniony-golden hue.  Add in your broccoli rabe, which has been rinsed, had the tough bottom ends of the stems removed, and roughly chopped.

So. Close. To done.

So. Close. To done.

Once that’s in the pan, grate a little fresh nutmeg over it (yes, really, it just makes it warm and homey) and toss in some salt and pepper.  This should saute for about five minutes before you add the tomatoes.

Come on, it even LOOKS festive.

Come on, it even LOOKS festive.

p.s. Is your water boiling yet?

Allow the tomatoes to cook in with the rapini for two or three minutes and put your fresh orecchiette in to boil.  Give it a stir and then watch it; within a minute or so it should start to float and when that happens, it’s ready to drain.  Reserve a ladle full of pasta water and drain your noodles.  Check the sauce.  If it seems kind of watery and needs to tighten up, add in some of your ladle of starchy pasta water, give it a stir, and then add your drained noodles to your pan.  Let them cook together for a minute or two.  Check for seasonings and adjust salt and pepper–I hit mine with a pretty sizeable amount of fresh-ground black pepper.  Make a chiffonade from ten or so fresh mint leaves, stir this in and remove from heat.  Give it a little kiss from some pecorino-romano and serve.  We ate ours with Parmesan-roasted acorn squash and bread with Fiery Onion Relish.

Fact: I can't wait to eat the leftovers, either.

Score!

Fact: I can’t wait to eat the leftovers, either.

Nosh: Roasted Turnips and Pasta

I came home from a visit with my family with a giant bag full of turnips.

Turnips.

There are few things that are less sexy than a turnip.  The word is unsexy.   The raw root in its un-manhandled state is unsexy.  And most people, when they think of how they’ve eaten turnips, think of them mashed.

Image from food.com

Image from food.com

which looks like baby food.  By definition…unsexy.  Delicious, maybe.  But unsexy.

Not that I always need my food to bring the sexy at all times but it’s nice to think of other things to do with it an ingredient that…well…doesn’t remind you of baby food.  And turnips are good!  They’re bright and peppery, but their flesh can be a little watery and thus marginally difficult (marginally; let’s not make this seem more bleak than it really is) to manage in the cooking process.  This is where roasting comes in.

I have come to the conclusion that roasting makes everything better.  Kale?  Sure!  Tomatoes?  Roast ’em slow for a few hours and then just try to contain yourself.  Parsnips?  Brussels sprouts?  Yes and yes!  I just roasted grapes and shallots to stuff into some crêpes.  I even roast lemons when I make lemon risotto, because it deepens and mellows the lemon flavor so you don’t bite into a tart lemonade-flavored pile of hot rice.  Because roasting is a (relatively) dry heat it can help eliminate the water in the turnip and temper its peppery bite, especially if it’s a larger, older turnip.

Anyway.  I had these turnips and…what else?  Since I saw this as a great opportunity to clear out some stuff in my fridge it became a little bit of a kitchen sink dinner (as in, “everything but the…”).  I wrote out a rough draft of the recipe, but it’s written to accommodate how I think (and I always plan for leftovers) so it’s probably best if you read along in the blog first.

Heat your oven to 350°.  Prepare your garlic first.  Why?  Because you can start it roasting while you prep the veggies and said garlic will be ready earlier.  This means you can let the garlic get cool enough to handle, squeeze out the cloves while everything else finishes in the oven, and mix them in with the ricotta cheese without missing a beat.  Cut an entire bulb straight across the top, exposing the cross-sectioned cloves.  Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.

IMG_0036-001

Mmm…roasted garlic…

There are two things to bear in mind regarding roasted garlic.  One: if it’s too much for you, or you don’t like or can’t eat garlic, don’t worry.  Skip this step entirely and mix something like pesto or maybe roasted red peppers in with the cheese.  Be creative.  It’s your dinner.  And two: if you don’t have a fancy clay garlic roaster, don’t sweat it.  Neither do I.  Or rather, I think I do but I have no idea where it is.  Notice that the garlic is on a big piece of aluminum foil?  That’s there for a reason.  Fold the foil up around your garlic, crimp the edges together and voila!  Instant garlic roaster.

Peel your turnips and onions, and cut them and the zucchini into roasting-friendly chunks.  Put them all in pans and toss them with salt-pepper-oil, and let them roast for a half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, checking on them and giving them a stir after the first twenty.  Do you want to sprinkle the veggies with thyme?  All right.  Or, do you want to toss them with some balsamic vinegar?  Go for it!  I just wanted the pure vegetable/garlic combo the day I made this but you know, try what you think will make you happy.  It’s all good.  I do admit, I had way more turnips to start with than this recipe needs, but in the interests of making my life easier I roasted all of them at once.  Whatever’s left over the next day can be topped with breadcrumbs and reheated as a side dish…or stuffed into peppers…or loaded into a quesadilla…the possibilities are endless.

Loads of veggies ready to roast!

Loads of veggies ready to roast!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to cook in “one”s.  One onion, one zucchini, one bulging bag of turnips, and if I cut too much or cook too much, I incorporate what’s left into something else.  Who wants to measure things?  Not this girl.  Anyway.

I had about a half a cup of ricotta cheese left in my fridge and it was at the “use it or lose it” point…you know when you buy something to make one, specific thing, and then you’ve got that pathetic, almost-but-not-quite useless amount lurking on your shelves until you finally, months later, give up and throw it away?  Yeah.  It makes me crazy; I hate to waste food.  So why not use it here?  I also had a reasonable chunk of Swiss cheese that was approaching “use it or lose it” so I ask again: why not?  You could also use that lonesome piece of mozzarella you have left over from pizza night, or that chunk of muenster your kids won’t eat because they think it’s “monster cheese”.  Creative use of straggler food is what makes for a great kitchen sink dinner; you are virtuously not wasting either food or the money you spent to buy it while in the process making a healthy meal for you and your loved ones, and who doesn’t feel good about that?

Ricotta, garlic, Swiss, and some hot pasta water.  Dinner is mere moments away.

Ricotta, garlic, Swiss, and some hot pasta water. Dinner is mere moments away.

If your veggies are approaching doneness then your pasta should be boiling by now.  Mash howevermuch garlic you want into the ricotta (or, see above for non-garlic suggestions), reserve one cup of your pasta water, drain your pasta and then prepare for major assemblage.

Put a few handfuls of cleaned spinach into a bowl.  Shake some red pepper flakes on it and toss it with some of the hot, starchy pasta water so it begins to wilt.

Step one: Complete!

Step one: Complete!

Then: add the ricotta and garlic mixture and the rest of the water, and give that a good stir.  Pour the steaming pasta on top of that, and then top with your veggies.  If you think you roasted more turnips or zucchini or onions than you want in the pasta, that’s fine, only add as much as you think is right.  Mix in the Swiss cheese and, if you want, more fresh-ground pepper or some fresh herbs like parsley or chives.  Stir to combine, and let the Swiss cheese get all ooey-gooey-melty.  Have some Parmesan on the side for grating and serve with a green salad, and you’ve got one heck of a lovely turnip dinner.

Yes.

Yes.

For the record, my sister–who only ever associates turnips with mashing and of which she is not a fan–stopped by the night we made this.  I asked her if she wanted to try a little; she stayed for a whole plate.  It has the power to convert.  Don’t be afraid.  Just take the leap.

Nosh: Squash and Black Bean Chili

I just had my first delivery from my winter CSA.  I enjoy a good cold-weather crop; all those root veggies and dark greens and winter squashes are among my favorites, though it is true that since I became an adult I haven’t met a vegetable I didn’t like.

With one exception.  I’m looking at you, jicama.

Among the pickin’s was a nice big butternut squash.  If you’ve heard that my general approach is, “If it’s a gourd, I want to eat it”, then let me assure you the stories are true.  It was like angels packed my CSA box, because not even a full day before–less than 24 measly hours–I came across this recipe for pumpkin-black bean chili.

Wait, hold on a second…the recipe says “pumpkin”, but I’m talking about using butternut squash like they’re interchangeable.  What gives?

Here’s the deal: for the most part, they are.  Entirely.  Squash and pumpkin are all part of the same family; in much of the world they call all the variants (butternut, acorn, kabocha, etc) “pumpkin” and reserve the term “squash” for thin-skinned varieties like the pattypan.  Since the flesh of the (American term) pumpkin–and I mean the pie pumpkin, not the jack-o-lantern pumpkin, which is generally bred for its shell and not its meat–and the butternut squash are nearly identical in flavor, texture, useability in recipes and cooking characteristics, they are about as interchangeable as two different food stuffs can be.  So pumpkin and butternut squash = same, and that means I am ready to tear into my recipe, right?  Right?

Now what?

Getting into the squash itself is easily the biggest obstacle between you and dinner, but it can seem daunting.  The skin of a butternut squash is thick and hard, and impervious to things like vegetable peelers, small knives, and in all likelihood flamethrowers, but it can be overcome!  Don’t let it dissuade you from getting at the delicious meat just on the other side of the skin.  There are a couple of different ways to get at it, and equally valid depending on what you want your end product to look like.  Since the recipe calls for a puree, I’m going to roast one half whole and scoop it out of the skin; the other half, I’m going to peel before cooking and dice so I can roast the squares.  Step one: cut the squash in half lengthwise, and using my favorite, most underappreciated kitchen tool, scoop out the seeds with that unglamorous multi-tasker, the teaspoon.

Cut in half lengthwise, dig out the seeds.

Then coat one of the halves with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, put it cut side down on a baking sheet and into a waiting, pre-heated 350° oven.  You don’t have to peel it…you don’t have to oil up the skin side, either, but you can and should leave the skin on this one.  Forget about it for the next half an hour.

Dicing and roasting the other half of the squash is a little more complicated at first.  It does have to be peeled.  Cut the straight neck away from the bulb, stand the neck on end and slice down, keeping as close to the skin as possible.  For the bulb, I find that it’s easier and less dangerous to cut the bulb into slices along which you can guide your knife blade.  With patience and practice you’ll be able to dispatch the skin within a matter of a few minutes (though I’m not gonna lie; the first time I cut a butternut squash I think it took me like twenty minutes and I’m pretty sure I was crying by the end. It’s a good thing it’s so delicious or else I might never have gone back and tried, tried again).

Once it’s peeled, chop the squash into whatever size squares you feel is appropriate for your needs (I like them on the smallish side) and toss it in a pan with some olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.  Or whatever flavors you prefer.  Cumin.  Coriander.  Oregano.  Cayenne.  They all work, so let your imagination roam free.  It’s your kitchen.

To the oven with ye!

I roasted the unchopped half for about an hour (flipping once midway through) and the chunks probably forty minutes or so (stirring after twenty minutes).  The unchopped half is done when you can sink a knife into the thickest part of the neck and it meets with no resistance.  Let it get cool enough to handle and then take your beloved teaspoon and scoop that flesh straight out.  It’s so soft, it won’t be a problem.

Now that’s soft.

And then mash it with the back of your spoon, or a fork, or a masher-type thing if you must use specialized equipment.  You could throw it in the food processor, but really, why?  Anyway.  You’ll have something that looks like this:

Mmmmm, mashed butternut squash. Now set it aside for later.

Move on to the rest of your chili.

The fun thing about chili is that it’s always hearty and filling, even if it’s meatless.  It can come together quickly, once you get the ingredients assembled.  And it really is open to whatever ingredients you have around the house, though I know the hardcore Texas all-meat, no beans people would probably come for me with pitchforks and torches if they heard me say that.

I have profound love for the Texas chili.  If I got boneless beef chuck in my CSA box I would make some, but that’s not the case so all-meat chili people…lighten up.  It’s not personal.

Assemble your first round of ingredients.

Stage One ready to go in five…four…three…two…

I know you were all waiting for this, right?  Here’s what I did differently:

The recipe does not call for hot peppers; however, I fully intended to add some in there, because I like spicy food.  But we didn’t have any, so I also added a ground chipotle powder, which gave it a nice starter kick and added to the overall smokiness of the dish, which I thought was necessary to add in since I didn’t have fire-roasted tomatoes, as the recipe calls for.  When I realized I wanted more heat, I went for the spicy mainline and added a shot of sriracha.  Perfect!  I added cinnamon, because for me it’s not chili unless I toss a little cinnamon in there.  Not much, no more than a quarter teaspoon (unless you’re a junkie).  It’s just enough to cause that warm, savory cinnamon goodness to linger in the background.  If you think it sounds crazy you don’t have to add it, but I don’t make chili without it anymore.  And it only calls for eight ounces of beer, but that would mean that four ounces would be left over in the bottle.  It was the middle of the day, I still had Zumba to go to, it didn’t make sense that I would have leftover beer and not drink it, but it made less sense to have a pre-workout beer.  The entire bottle went in the chili.  You need to let that simmer for a little bit longer than the directions say, to burn off the additional alcohol, but your nose knows when it’s ready for the next step.  When the smell coming from the pot is one of savory harmony instead of hot beer, it’s ready for your next round of ingredients.

Rinsed black beans, crushed tomatoes, mashed squash, and corn. Seems like the start of a party.

And then these?  In.  I put the tomatoes in first and let them hang out in the beer and onion mixture that was in the pot already, just to let the liquids mingle and create a symphonic welcome for the beans and the rest of the veggies.  Once it’s cooked together for a few minutes, put in the rest of the goodies, taste and season.  Tinker, if necessary, since your taste is different than mine.  Depending on what kind of beer you use, you might want to add a little honey or sugar to balance the tartness.  You may want more sage, or more smoked paprika.  Mine was a little thicker than I wanted it to start, so I added some vegetable broth.  Bring it to a boil, and then simmer it for 45 minutes, stirring fairly regularly.

I’d show you a picture of it cooking but frankly, chili in process is an un-lovely thing to photograph.  It looked like a bad science experiment.

I made mine a little early in the day and let it sit while I went to Zumba, and I do recommend giving the flavors that extra time to mingle in the pot.  (Note: that post-chili-making downtime is also beneficial in getting your boyfriend to make cornbread.  But I digress.)  The full sweetness of the squash was completely evident, and the hearty earthiness of the beer and sage and browned onions harmonized into a lovely background.  I took some of the roasted chunks of butternut and used that as a topping, so I could enjoy little pockets of pure squashy love in my chili, along with the traditional toppings of cheese and scallions and some chopped pickled jalapenos.

Voila! Dinner, she is served!

The leftover nuggets of squash can be used in a million ways.  You can wrap them with refried beans and chicken into a burrito.  They can get tossed in pasta.  You can reheat them in the microwave–or saute them with some onions, mmmm!–for a side dish.  I had them with my lunch today, topping a pita with salad and hummus and blueberries and feta.

Hands off. This is MY lunch.

This chili would also be a great way to dispense with some Thanksgiving leftovers, as I would imagine it would be fantastic with turkey replacing one of the cans of beans.  Toss some of the carcass in to simmer at the beginning to really add that turkey flavor.  Wow.  Now I know my post-Thanksgiving project.

The recipe as it’s printed does say that you can use canned pumpkin (NOT the pie mix!) and that’s totally viable, especially if you want to make this fairly quickly, as the squash from scratch does take some time.  But if you’re looking to learn about how to take butternut squash from its raw state to cooked, this provides you with two suggestions.  If you’re looking to be in control of your food, understand what you’re eating, and want to ensure that your food is as additive-free as possible, then take the extra time to cook from scratch.  And seriously, those little squash nuggets go with everything.

Enjoy!

Nosh: Chicken!

Yes, chicken.

I know, a lot of the food I write about here is vegetarian.  I live with a vegetarian, I cook a lot of vegetarian food.  I don’t apologize.  And one of the things I’ve found endlessly fascinating, if not a little short-sighted, is that I am constantly asked–once it is made clear that I am NOT a vegetarian–how on Earth I manage to survive in such a meat-deprived household.  To those people I say:

1. Do you see me?  I’m clearly not in the habit of missing meals, and

2. Get over your meat-saturated selves.

With that being said, I do enjoy having a lean protein handy that I can add to a meal if I so choose.  I just feel better when I feel like my protein is in balance.  Hence I often cook up a panful of chicken that I can eat from during the week; the trick is to make it delicious enough to stand on its own if I just want a sandwich yet receptive and/or complementary to a variety of cuisines so the flavors don’t clash if I choose to add it in.  I’m not putting curried chicken in my parmesan, dig?  And how do you achieve this sort of chickeny goodness, you ask?  Where can you find a recipe with such a capacity for multi-tasking?

I’m here to help.

This is a recipe I came up with in my kitchen, though I’m sure there are hundreds of close versions of this out there.  Here’s what you need:

  • Chicken
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Vinegar
  • Broth
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

We’ll discuss proportions in a minute.

Since I’m usually cooking this just for me, I try to find the smallest pack of chicken possible but if your grocery store is anything like mine then they’ve discovered that people will buy the bigger packs regardless of what they “need”, and I’m sure it generates less waste for the store.  So your onion and garlic should correspond to the amount of chicken you have to start with.  The smallest pack I could get this week was about a pound and a half…

Mmmm, chickeny beginnings.

…so I used an onion that was roughly the size of a grapefruit and maybe three or four cloves of garlic (they were small!).  For smaller packs of chicken, use a smaller onion and less garlic.  Or not, it’s your kitchen.

Note: yes, when I work with meat I put my salt and pepper in a small Pyrex bowl and season out of that.  It’s so much less likely to cross-contaminate your supplies this way.  And…moving on.

I like to use the boneless, skinless, thin-sliced chicken breasts when I cook largely because that means I literally have zero prep work to do with the meat; I just open the container and go.  But caveat emptor!  This will get wicked dry after a few days so if you don’t eat all of it right away (as in, you feed it to your family that night), be prepared to chop it up and add it to soup by the end of the week.  Or you could use less thin, skin-on, bone-in chicken, which will preserve moisture in the meat.  Again, it’s your kitchen.  I simply choose to use this particular cut of meat because I am laaaaazeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Maybe that’s not entirely true, especially in the kitchen.  But the objective behind this is to have something that is flexible, and on the meat scale what is more flexible than boneless, skinless chicken breast?  Nothing, I tell you.  Nothing.  And I’m lazy.  Yeah, I’m sticking with that.

Anyway.  Season the up-facing side of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and then put them in a nice, fairly hot pan.  You don’t want your pan to be screaming hot, you’re not trying to blacken your chicken.  You just want to get a nice sear on it pretty quickly.

Seriously, the brown? Is perfect.

When the first side is browning, season the second so it’s ready to be flipped.  Once both sides are browned, take the chicken out, sit it on a nearby plate and drop the heat to a nice, mid-range saute level.  Add your onions and garlic.  You can dice the onions if you want; I tend to cut them into half-moons for no other reason than it is faster and doesn’t expose as much surface area of the onion.  Less onion-cutting time makes me cry less, and this really is all about me.  After about a minute I like to add in the thyme.  How much thyme?

This much thyme.

No, I don’t measure, not really.  I’m more of a, dump it in my hand until it feels like the right amount, kind of girl.  But this much thyme worked for this much chicken, so use, you know.  This much.  Accordingly.  You’ll start to have a lovely pan that will look something like this:

And this is lookin’ good.

Remember!  Very important!  The gnarly brown bits at the bottom of the pan are not indications that you’re burning dinner!  (Not until they smell burned, that is.)

Rejoice! For you have achieved brown godliness.

The gnarly brown bits are small nuggets of concentrated deliciousness.  It’s the potent combination of caramelization from the meat and the onions (meat people, relax, I know that the meat doesn’t  caramelize but rather that the chicken’s browning comes from the Maillard reaction…so put down the food dictionary and take a deep breath) combined into lumps of goodness aching for release.

And you’re just the person to give it to ’em.  Once the onions brown a little, if you think you’ve taken them as far in the pan as you can without risking a burn, then pour in some vinegar to deglaze the pan.  If you have leftover white wine, that also works very well (and I’ve made it with leftover Prosecco; it was amazing).  However, what I generally and quite happily use is white balsamic vinegar.  It’s light, it’s fruity but not overpowering.  If you don’t have white balsamic, basic white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar would be fine.  Other flavors of vinegar have the potential to irrevocably settle the flavor so the chicken won’t adapt well to whatever you chose to pair it with.  Long story short: if you want to preserve the dish’s versatility avoid a vinegar that’s profoundly fruity or pungent.

When you deglaze, pour about a quarter-cup of vinegar into your hot pan.  Stir stir stir, until all the delicious browned bits have been pulled off the bottom of your pan and have incorporated themselves into the beginnings of a pan sauce.

Deglazed and ready.

Let that cook for about thirty seconds or so–maybe a minute–just long enough so the vinegar has a chance to mellow.  Put your chicken back in the pan.

Don’t forget the juices from the plate!

And dump whatever has collected in the bottom of the plate, back in the pan too.  Then add some stock for the chicken to simmer in.  I like to use the smaller box of stock for this.

Again with the not measuring. I use the above size stock.  I think it’s 8 ounces.

Pour that whole thing in and if you want, add a little more water to just barely cover the chicken.  The meat itself will be finished cooking within a matter of minutes (especially if you use the thin cuts, like I do) but the flavors get extracted out of the onions and garlic and it becomes extraordinary.  Start with this:

Set it to saute and leave it alone at this point.

Yes, just keep it at a saute, it will take a while.  No, don’t cover the pan, you want everything to cook out.  Yes, cook the rest of your dinner while you’re waiting for this to finish.  Or do the sudoku, or read a book.  Whatever.  Everything should cook down completely in about a half an hour; it will take less time to cook if you don’t want the sauce to reduce all the way to a beautiful mahogany glaze.

But me, that’s how I like it.

It’s unfair how good this is.

I make this all the time.  It always pays off, and I’m not kidding when I say it will go with pretty much anything you’ve cooked.  Italian?  Yep.  Thai?  Mmm hmmm.  Mexican?  No problem.  And so on, and so on.

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