Thursday, October 26, 2017

apple crisp

I have done a disservice to us all by waiting so long to share this recipe. To me, this is the apple crisp recipe to end all apple crisp recipes. It is Ina Garten magic at it's best: perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, with enough butter that you're tempted to be apologetic but decide not to care because it is just so damn good. There is a lot of crisp in this recipe but it is in perfect proportion to the volume of apples. The gorgeous rubble covers the apples completely, ensuring each serving gets a substantial portion. When it comes to eating apple crisp who wants to get short-changed on the crisp? I don't and I love that Ina gets that.

I am sorry to be such a brag, but I have moved to apple heaven. Oh, don't worry, in January when it is dark and cold, my Southern California friends can rib me with pictures of their sunny 70 degree days, but in the meantime, fall here is just showing off. The apples pictured above are from my friend Wendy. She had me over for the afternoon, fed me a lovely lunch (which included curried chicken salad- I could have cried it was so good) and then we walked around her property, which includes her apple trees. She generously offered me as many as my hands could pick and then we returned to her house to sample some with caramel sauce. Sounds pretty much perfect, don't you think? The apples were so beautiful and I had fun arranging them to show off their various shades.

With this apple abundance, I made a large batch of apple butter and also we have been snacking on them daily. My favorite apple use though, has to be in apple crisp. We had family visiting last weekend. Early in the day, I made the crisp topping and apple filling and refrigerated separately. The apple filling can be done in advance because it includes both lemon and orange zest and juices, which in addition to adding incredible flavor, help keep the apples from turning brown when exposed to air. In the evening, just before sitting down to watch a movie, I assembled the crisp to bake. There is no seasonal special candle that accurately captures the wafting smell of spicy sweet goodness from a baking apple crisp. I like mine topped with whole milk yogurt, but the majority of folks seem to prefer vanilla ice cream. This recipe makes quite a good-sized pan of crisp: it fed 4 adults and 3 teenage boys and we still had leftovers.

apple crisp

5 pounds assorted apples - I like to use a good volume of Granny Smith apples plus an assortment of other varieties. Ina recommends McIntosh or Macoun.
grated zest of 1 orange
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, large chopped

1) Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 14 x 2 inch baking dish. I use a classic rectangle glass casserole dish.

2) Prep the apples: peel, core and cut into large wedges. I cut peeled apples in half, then quarters, core them and then cut each quarter into 3 slices.

2) In a large bowl, toss the apple wedges with the zests, juices, sugar and spices. Give a big stir to coat all. Pour the dressed apples into the baking dish and be sure to include any accumulated juices.

3) For the topping, Ina's instructions include using the stand mixer, but I find more success with a pastry cutter and my hands: in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, two sugars, salt and oatmeal. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the butter is the size of peas. Likely, you'll have some crisp crumbles start to form, but also some floury bits remaining. At this point, I switch to using my well-scrubbed hands to rub the butter into the remaining mixture until it all starts to come together. Layer the crisp rubble evenly over the apples.

4) Bake for one hour until the top is browned and the apples are bubbly. I also take a small knife to poke into the crisp to verify the apples have softened. Let stand for about 10 minutes and then serve warm with your desired topping.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rotini with arugula pesto, pangrattato and crispy egg (aka fried egg sandwich pasta)

I am a greedy eater. My main motivation for cooking is that I love food and I want to eat more of what I like. Sometimes I get hooked on a idea or inspired by a certain combination of flavors and get a little obsessed with how to make the thought into something I can eat. This recipe is a narrative of my greediness.

Recently, my husband has been traveling out of town and so I put my menu planning together just for me. Everyone handles "single eating" differently: I often use it for one of my favorite dinners- tater tots, a glass of chardonnay and Netflix. I also view it as an opportunity to try out a new recipe.  One of my favorite easy suppers is a fried egg sandwich with arugula. I love the peppery arugula with the salty silkiness of the egg.  I love the sandwich so much, I was thinking about blogging about it, but felt sheepish because it is so basic. This sent my brain down the rabbit trail of "How can I take the flavors of this sandwich and translate it into more of meal? Something I could actually share with others?" These questions cross-pollinated with the view of my basil plant, sagging with unpicked leaves and a tub of unused arugula in my fridge. I recently read in Julia Turshen's book about her pesto process (yes, I am referencing her book again. I will likely never not be praising that book), and landed on the idea of a pasta coated with arugula and basil pesto and topped with a crispy fried egg. I loved it but had the nagging suspicion I was leaving an element out. Deb Perelman on Smitten Kitchen posted last winter about pangrattato which sounds fancy but here is what she had to say about it:
"Pangrattato translates from Italian as grated bread, referring to breadcrumbs themselves, but in dishes, it’s often known to as the poor man’s Parmesan because when you take that stale bread and lightly toast in in olive oil, herbs and seasonings — anything from just salt and pepper to garlic and anchovies, lemon zest and capers or olives — it adds remarkable texture and complex flavor to pasta without the expense of Parmesan."
Somewhere my memory dredged up this and I realized pangrattato would be the perfect "toast" element to my fried egg sandwich pasta. I love the moment when an idea coalesces. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does I get a buzzy sort of feeling, like when I've had too much coffee.

Completely obsessed with the idea, I set out to execute it. It seriously turned out so good- the punchy herbal zing of the pesto with the savory crunch of the bread crumbs, all wrapped up in a cozy dish of pasta. While the first time through a new recipe takes a bit longer, I think if I make the pesto in advance and stash it in the freezer (as Julia recommends), this could easily be a weeknight dinner. While I've written the recipe below for 1-2 servings, I think it could be scaled up to feed more by increasing the pasta and eggs. The pesto recipe as written makes enough that it should cover a full pound of pasta.

(For ultimate fried egg sandwich inspiration, there is a perfect one in the film, Spanglish.)

Rotini pasta with arugula pesto, pangrattato and crispy fried egg (aka fried egg sandwich pasta)
serves 2 or 1 with leftovers

The pesto recipe is a (slight) variation from Julia Turshen's book, Small Victories. The original recipe called for walnuts, but as I have an aversion to them, I substituted the pumpkin seeds and it worked beautifully. Also, instead of all arugula, I include a cup of basil because my little basil plant on my windowsill was begging for some purpose.

The pangrattato and crispy egg recipe are from Smitten Kitchen and, with the exception of excluding rosemary in the pangrattato, I have used it as originally created, but provided my own instructions.

This is one of those recipes that goes quickly, so I highly recommend having ingredients prepped before getting started.

2 small (or 1 large) garlic cloves
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (to toast, spread on rimmed sheet pan in 375 degree oven and bake for approximately 5 - 7 minutes. Take care not to burn. Let cool completely before adding to pesto)
3 cups arugula, packed
1 cup basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small (or 1 large) garlic clove, minced
1/2 - 3/4 cup fresh or stale corse bread crumbs (I took some leftover bread and whirled it for a bit in my food processor. Deb's recipe says you can also use panko breadcrumbs)
few fine gratings of lemon zest

to complete:
1/2 pound fusilli pasta (I think cavatappi would work very nicely too)
2 eggs (or 1 egg per person)
olive oil
salt & pepper

1) Make the pangrattato: In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once the olive oil is shimmery, add the garlic for just a quick second, give it a stir, and then add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Immediately reduce the heat to low. Cook the mixture slowly until the bread crumbs are evenly toasted and golden brown. This is one of those steps where you need to stay at the stove and keep an eye on it to avoid burning. The reward for this fiddliness is a crunchy savory topping for the pasta. Once all toasted, remove from pan and set aside. (Try to avoid snacking on it- good luck)

2) Put large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. In the meantime...

3) Make the pesto: To a food processor, add the ingredients in stages, until they are finely chopped. This is Julia's methodology and its a smart solution to avoid having errant chunks in the final product. First up, while the food processor is running, add the garlic. Once the garlic is finely chopped, add the pumpkin seeds. Once the pumpkin seeds are finely chopped, add the arugula and basil. Then add the olive oil and parmesan and keep the food processor running until everything is well combined. You may need to stop a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. One finished, taste the pesto and add salt as necessary. At this point, I leave the pesto to sit in the food processor until it's time to add to the pasta- this way I can give it one last spin before pouring over.

4) Make crispy eggs: In a non-stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil per egg over high heat. Crack in an egg and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook until white is set and egg yolk is still a bit runny (or cook yolk to your preference). If you can, carefully spoon the hot olive oil in the pan over the top of the egg. The edges of egg will get very crispy and crackly. Transfer cooked eggs to a plate lined with a paper towel. (I tend to cook my fried eggs one at a time, but please don't feel hampered by my own limitations.)

5) Assemble: Cook pasta according to package directions and before draining, set aside 1 cup of pasta water. Add pasta back to empty pot and add 1/3 cup of pesto and a few tablespoons of reserved pasta water. Toss pasta with sauce to coat, adding more pesto or water as needed. Divide pasta among shallow bowls and top with breadcrumbs and crispy egg. Serve immediately.

Note: this pesto is excellent as it's own element. A few nights later, I tossed the leftovers with some roasted veggies. Crazy good.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A few thoughts about the dinner hour (and a recipe for ginger pork meatballs and coconut rice)

I used to ride the train to commute to downtown LA. At the end of the day, to return to Union Station, I would first catch the metro from Pershing Square. In my experience, anytime after 3:30pm, the metro would be packed with fellow commuters and when the doors would open, a river of us would spill out, flooding the metro platform and the staircases to the train connections. As we dutifully marched, pounding the stairs, the steady rhythm of footfalls seemed to reverberate "Get-Home-Get-Home-Get-Home". I liked, for that brief moment, feeling connected to the strangers around me, all of us sharing a common goal.

When I go to the grocery store during the post-work pre-dinner rush, I get a similar feeling. It's a frenzy as everyone has stopped in to snag whatever is needed to transition from work/school/after school activity to dinner table. No matter our backgrounds and circumstances, we all are engaged with a similar focus: we need to feed ourselves, to feed our families.

I think the weekday dinner presents a particular kind of meal challenge. For the most part, we are fine eating the same breakfast for weeks on end. If you're like me, you actually love the consistency of a breakfast routine. For lunch, a little more variety is appreciated, but no one expects a show: leftovers, lunchables, PB&J, its all acceptable. Then there's dinner- at the end of a day in which we're exhausted and rushed, it taunts us with expectations- to be delicious, to be homemade, to be interesting, to be healthy, to be filling, to be not too inexpensive, to be on-time, etc.

Since moving, I have embraced the dinner hour in a new way. At first it was exciting- I have time to cook! But after two weeks, I realized I was bored with my old standbys and that my weeknight meals had previously relied on eating out and Trader Joes solutions more than I thought. I started to wonder- what do other people eat for dinner? How are other people pulling this off? What can I make that won't put me in the kitchen for three hours? I love cooking with a crockpot, but too many meals in a row and they all start to take on the same texture.

I have learned that when I feel stuck it is an opportunity to embrace my curiosity and love of learning. If I don't know something, I should just learn it. So, over the last several weeks I've made a conscious effort to learn more about making dinner. I thought I would share a few of the resources I have found helpful and one new recipe that I absolutely love.

I would also like to learn from you: what are your favorite weeknight dinner meals? What is your menu planning strategy? What short-cuts do you find helpful? I'd welcome a conversation around the Dinner Hour.

I'd like our conversation to strike the balance of tone between "it's all so easy" and "ugh, cooking is a drag." I suspect, most days, we vacillate somewhere in-between. While I clearly love the internet and food blogging, I worry about a down-side to all the pictures of beautiful food out there. Does it cause us to put unrealistic expectations on ourselves? Recently, I read this article that said Americans are cooking less and less. It really bummed me out:

"...suggests that our fondness for Food TV has inspired us to watch more Food TV, and to want to eat more, but hasn’t increased our desire to cook. In part, Food TV has raised our standards to discouragingly high levels: How many of us really feel confident in our cooking skills after watching Iron Chef?"

I am encouraging myself to engage in daily cooking and setting aside the need, or pressure, to do it perfectly.

Here are some dinner time resources I have found helpful and inspiring lately:

"Dinner: Changing the Game" by Melissa Clark

  • Hands down, the book I am cooking out of most often these days. I borrowed a copy from the local library and have extended my check-out three times. I share one of the recipes below. The big aha for me is how many of the recipes use the broiler to cook dinner. Fast cooking time and hands-off? I'm in. (The book is due back this week at the library and I've been snapping pics with my phone of recipes I still want to try!)
  • Favorite recipes: Vietnamese ginger chicken, ginger pork meatballs (see recipe below), cumin chicken meatballs, fusilli and roasted cauliflower with capers.

"Small Victories" by Julia Turshen

  • The best compliment I can give this book is that it stays on my kitchen counter because I consult it so frequently. Not only are the recipes great but I have picked up tips and techniques  which make me feel smarter and more confident in the kitchen. 
  • Favorite recipes: Julia's Caesar, roasted radishes with kalamata dressing, roasted red cabbage, pickled red onions, "seven things to do with a can of chickpeas", raspberry jam buns with creme fraiche frosting.

"Mad Hungry" by Lucinda Scala Quinn

  • Quote I love: "Sometimes a home cook's challenge isn't just to make homemade food to also make do with what you have on hand." 
  • Favorite recipes: chicken enchiladas salsa verde, spicy indian chickpeas, cucumber yogurt salad 

"Dinner: a Love Story" by Jenny Rosenstrach

  • Published in 2012, I feel like this book sort of kicked off the latest wave of practical cookbooks. It is an ode to the dinner hour, with lots of practical wisdom and recipes included. 
  • Favorite recipes: Confession- I have not yet cooked anything out of this book but I do find it very inspiring to read. I think this totally still counts. 
"Slow Cook Modern" by Liana Krisoff 

  • This book was just released and so I have not yet had a chance to browse it. The recipes are for crockpots and I own another book by Liana Krisoff and really love it. This is at the top of my Christmas Wishlist.

I loved novelist Rumaan Alam's recent piece in epicurious about cooking for his family. I'm particularly inspired by how he saves up veggie scraps to freeze for later use in stocks. So clever!

On Instagram, I get inspiration from:
  • In her instagram stories, Mad Hungry author Lucinda Scala Quinn's shares clips of making family dinners and it's all straightforward and unpretentious. I learn just by watching her work.
  • Sarah Carey is the editorial director at Martha Stewart Living and most mornings preps her family's dinner before she leaves for work. On her ig feed she posts a picture and notes about how she puts it together. Again, it's unpretentious and she also shares good ideas for using up leftovers.
  • Deb Perelman with Smitten Kitchen is always inspiring and lately she's started using an instant pot. I'm looking forward to learning from her. (Also, her new cookbook looks like it may also be a good resource for weeknight cooking.)
Finally, I enjoyed this piece in Bon Appetit from The Cut editor Stella Bugbee about how she fits in meal prep time to her day. It was like a little light bulb went off in my brain: oh, just like how I prep for parties in advance, I can actually do prep work within each day to get a jump start on dinner.

ginger pork meatballs with cilantro and fish sauce and coconut rice
from "Dinner: Changing the Game" by Melissa Clark

This dinner was crazy good. It has all the fun stuff going on with a balance of salty, sweet, sour, crunchy, cream and spicy. I served it with a simple side of sliced radishes but you're welcome to put more effort into it. (I think the roasted green beans would do nicely.) My husband and I easily ate through a sheet pan of the meatballs. Next time I make them, I am for sure doubling the recipe and if you're serving more than two people, I'd recommend the same. My favorite part is how easy it is to broil the meatballs.

1 pound ground pork
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions, white and greens parts
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped (if you're not a fan of heat, I think you could leave out)
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or minced
finely grated zest of 1 lime
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce (If you don't have this on-hand, I think it's okay to leave it out)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

dipping sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon light brown sugar

1) In a large bowl, combine the pork, cilantro, scallions, chile, ginger, garlic, lime zest and juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, and salt. I find it's helpful to use my hands to gently mix it all together and have a small box of food-safe plastic gloves under my kitchen sink for this purpose. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls and arrange in a single layer (not touching) on rimmed baking sheets. At this point, the author notes you can also cover the meatballs well and refrigerate up to overnight.

2) Set the oven rack 4 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler. I used the high setting. Broil the meatballs and use tongs to turn them so they are golden all over and cooked through. The original authors notes said this took 8 to 10 minutes, but it took me more like 12.

3) While the meatballs are broiling, whisk together the dipping sauce ingredients in a separate bowl and set aside.

Coconut Rice 

This is embarrassingly easy to make (just subbing in coconut milk for water) but the payoff is big. Creamy rice is the perfect accompaniment to the salty spicy meatballs but also very good as a side to other dishes. The original recipe doesn't call for adding the toasted coconut but I love the extra crunch and sweetness.

1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk
1 cup white rice, either short or long-grain, rinsed very well
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup flake or shredded sweetened coconut

1) Empty the can of coconut milk into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. If it does not read as measuring 1 7/8 cup, add enough water to equal to there.

2) In a medium sized pot with a good fitting lid, add the coconut milk, rice and salt. With the lid off, bring the mixture to a boil but then cover the pot and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for around 17 minutes.

3) Once the 17 minutes are up, remove the pot from the heat and place a super clean dish towel between the rim of the pot and the lid. Let the pot stand like this for 10 minutes to steam.

3) While the rice is cooking, toast coconut: place coconut in a large dry skillet over medium heat. Do not step away from the stove- it goes from zero toastiness to burnt very quickly. Stir the coconut so that it toasts evenly and remove from heat when the flakes are golden brown. Set aside to cool (and valiantly attempt not to snack on it).

4) Alongside the broiled meatballs, serve scoops of the coconut rice with a topping of toasted coconut.

If you should find yourself with extra toasted coconut, along with some shavings of dark chocolate, it makes a lovely sweet snack to top good vanilla ice cream.

Friday, October 13, 2017

a few of my favorite things - 10/13/17

As you can tell from the picture above, during unpacking this past week, I found the box with the candle holders in it. It was another 4 days until I found the box with the candles themselves, but now I am set for the waning light and the longer evenings. (I believe we are daily losing about 4 minutes of light and I can feel it.)

Here are a few of my favorite things from around the web: 

For those who regularly lead "brainstorming" type activities at work, Harvard Business Review says "For better brainstorming, tell an embarrassing story." 

Pretty sure I need this sandwich in my life.

This week I finished the book "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi and it is one of the best fiction books I've read in a while. It is heartbreaking and beautiful.

Speaking of book recommendations, here are Brene Brown's 6 favorite books that inspire bravery.

"6 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Roasting Vegetables" - I roast veggies probably 4 times a week. Once I learned rule 4, it really helped me. 

This Emerson Fry dress is a huge splurge but I purchased it last year and it was perfect for holiday events and I know it'll be so for many more holidays to come. If you're not familiar with Emerson Fry, it's an American made brand and they release limited edition runs of their items. Their designs manage to feel both modern and timeless.

These last few weeks have brought a lot of painful stories in the news. There have been a number of heartbreaking articles on the realities of sexual harassment that women continue to experience. It infuriates me and also makes me ill that we are still facing this. When I feel overwhelmed by it, I remind myself that we are not powerless and not without hope that we can continue to change our society for the better. A few years ago, Joanna Goddard posted this very helpful piece on teaching children about consent. One of my favorite Aha's:
  • "The feminist writer Jessica Valenti, author of Sex Object, recently told me this eye-opening tip: “It’s important to normalize a healthy reaction to the rejection of affection. So, if I ask my daughter for a kiss on the cheek and she says not right now, I smile and say, ‘Okay!’ I want her to know that the appropriate reaction to saying ‘no’ to physical affection is saying fine and moving on. Not a guilt trip, not anger, not sulking.” It was a lightbulb moment. Before, when Anton didn’t want to cuddle, I’d playfully pout and beg for kisses — now I respect his decision and move on."
We are headed to the westside (Seattle) this weekend to stock up on items in preparation for winter and to see family. My sister reports my 2 year old niece has been picking up her cell phone to "call Duke and Harriet". I am only too happy to respond!

I hope your weekend has some time with those you love. Do you have any special fall weekend plans? I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

chocolate pumpkin seed cookies

Pumpkin, understandably, gets a lot of love this time of year. I am right up there with everyone else. At my request, my husband returned from a recent Seattle Trader Joes run with 7 cans of it for me.

I'd also like to ask us all to give some consideration to pumpkin seeds. This cookie caught my eye for just that reason. The recipe is from Bon Appetit. I like to think of it as a seasonal version of a salted chocolate chip cookie. I love the combination of a spiced brownie-like dough studded with dark chocolate with toasted green pumpkin seeds. (Please note: this recipe is talking about shelled pumpkin seeds and not the whole seed that is scraped out of the pumpkin for jack-o-lantern prep.) The finished product has a wonderful rubbly texture with crunchy and chewy bits. I love it dunked in my morning coffee.

After I made the dough, I portioned it off, froze the individual balls on a cookie sheet, and then transferred to a freezer safe ziplock bag. This way, I can have fresh baked cookies whenever the mood strikes- for example, last night, while watching Season 4 of The Great British Baking Show. (Anyone else out there watching? What do you think of this season?)

chocolate pumpkin seed cookies 

The original recipe says it makes 18 servings, but I was able to get 25- I made my dough portions a little smaller than the recommended 1/4 cup.

1½ cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (original recipe calls for hot smoked paprika, but I just used regular smoked)
1½ cups (packed) light brown sugar
1⅓ cups granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1¼ cups bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips
Flaky sea salt

1) Preheat oven to 350. On a rimmed baking sheet, spread pumpkin seeds in one layer and toast, stirring occasionally, until seeds are golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them as burned seeds/nuts are not worth including in a recipe. Remove from oven and let cool.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, baking soda, cinnamon and paprika. Set aside.

3) In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together on medium-high speed the brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter. Beat for about 4 minutes or until the butter is pale and fluffy. (This is a step I had been rushing all my life but it is actually pretty important to the process. I now set a little timer for myself to ensure I don't skimp on the time.)

4) Add eggs, one at a time, and beat to fully incorporate before adding the next one. Then, with the mixer turned down to low, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions. Turn mixer off and, by hand, fold in chocolate and pumpkin seeds.

5) Create dough balls about 1/4 cup of dough each. On parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, place 6 dough balls per sheet, spacing about 3 inches apart. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and bake, until edges are firm but centers will still be soft, about 18-20 minutes. If I am baking the dough straight from the freezer, it will need the full 20 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

happy sad spicy roasted green beans

Last May, shortly after we decided to move from California to Washington, we were attending our SoCal church and the pastor gave a sermon about comparison. I am sorry to say that I recall almost nothing about the context or the particular anecdotes that were provided (apologies to all my pastor friends) but an aspect of it did stick with my husband and I because over post-Church brunch, we talked about it. We concluded that in moving from California to Washington we wanted to be very clear with ourselves, and in talking with others, that we did not view the move as choosing a new place because it is somehow better than our old place. We love California. The decision to go to Washington was not a push to leave California but rather a pull to do something new and different. We did not want to do the comparison thing where it's like "Oh we love Washington: all the clean air, there's no traffic, housing is so less expensive! Suck it LA." Sincerely, that has never been part of the narrative for us. We love both places and do not compare them to each other because they are very different. Another way to put it: our new love for Washington does not mean a rejection of California and the reasons why we lived there. I think it's a misstep to think that a yes to something new suddenly requires an eschewing of the former, as in "I can't believe I used to like this..." While I am very much in the honeymoon stage in my new hometown, I still carry the same love I had for where I used to live.

I think I want to share this because right now my outlook can best be described as happy sad. We purchased a new home and have been moved in for about three weeks and it is wonderful. I am so glad to be unpacked and surrounded by familiar objects and am also enjoying picking out new things for the home. (For those who have followed along with my attempts at Instagram stories, you got some awkward video of me excited for my new washing machine and TV room couch. Thanks for enduring). But unpacking has brought a new realization of the permanency of this change. It's as though seeing my California things in my Washington home deepens my understanding of "Oh, I really don't live there any more." Today I spotted a book on our shelves with a deeply faded spine. It's color stood out to me in contrast to the other books it was stacked next to. I remembered it has that faded spine because of the light it was exposed to in the guest bedroom of our California home. As I processed the memory of where it used to sit compared to where it is now,  I felt sad. That place where it used to be, where I used to be, is gone. 

I used to think that for a decision to be validated as the right one everything about it had to feel right and good and happy. As you can imagine, this has caused me no small amount of heartache over the years. Thankfully, intellectually at least, I have learned this is not the rule. I think it would have helped me all those years ago to hear more stories about the hard parts of change and transition. I know it helps me now to acknowledge them. I am okay and happy in my new place but I am also homesick for California. I can be both of those things at the same time.

It isn't the highest item on the list of things I miss about SoCal, but we did have some really great local restaurants in our neighborhood. In my opinion, the best casual dining Thai food restaurant in the US is within 2 miles of our old home (feel free to argue with me about it, but I am sticking to it). There were also places that weren't like "the best ever" but were just our places: familiar, easy, consistently good. Places where we could always count on a spot at the bar for an end of work-week margarita or short wait time for take-out. There is a Chinese food restaurant a block south from my old work that was a standby for a quick weeknight dinner. I would text my husband "Spicy green beans for dinner?" and he would text back a thumbs up affirmative. Technically, the dish was spicy green beans with chicken, but I didn't care about the chicken. When I ordered, I asked for more green beans than chicken and the staff would smile and indulge me, switching from a wide serving spoon to tongs, to better select the beans from buffet dish.

The green beans were crazy good: charred on the edges and slicked with spicy oil. Because the restaurant was so close to my work, it was also a favored lunch spot among my colleagues. And so when I say I miss these green beans, I think I am really saying I miss them too and the everyday things we shared together. 

I have not tried to replicate the exact dish (I am sure it is actually cooked in a wok), but rather give an approximation of it. For comfort, I just wanted to get a similar enough flavor profile. When I can, I love to roast in the oven because it requires less active work than minding something on the stove top. In my new Washington home, I served these beans alongside some ginger chicken and coconut rice (more later on the coconut rice.)

I am happy because these green beans are so good and sad because I miss the place where I used to eat them. 

spicy roasted green beans 

If you're not familiar with sambal oelek, it is a paste made with chilies and vinegar. The brand I've always used is from Huy Fong, the same folks who make the much beloved sriracha sauce. It packs quite a fiery punch, so I've indicated to use 1-2 teaspoons but if you love spicy foods, please feel free to add more. (Also, if you or someone you love is a big sriracha fan, this documentary film was a fun watch. It's available on Amazon Prime.)

I like to roast the green beans until they are charred in places and sort of slump in their softness but if you prefer more of a bite, please feel free to reduce the cooking time.

I think this recipe would double or triple easily but would recommend using additional baking sheets to ensure the beans roast. If the veggies are too crowded it results in steaming.

3/4 pound green beans, ends trimmed (I like to leave them whole, but you could certainly cut into segments)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek
kosher salt

1) Preheat oven to 450. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss green beans with garlic, olive oil and a generous pinch of salt.

2) Roast for about 18 minutes or until beans have charred on the edges and softened up. Then, remove baking sheet, dollop on the one to two teaspoons of sambal oelek and stir to coat the veggies. Return beans to oven for another 3 minutes and then remove. Serve the beans hot or they are also very good at room temperature. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

caesar salad with julienned veggies and garlicky toast croutons

I have learned that one of the crux ingredients in caesar salad dressing is anchovies. Whenever I purchase a small tin of them I think of a particular scene from Friends: it's in the episode where Rachel learns that Ross slept with that girl from the copy shop and then the two of them are in Rachel and Monica's apartment. Rachel orders pizza and, just to spite Ross, asks for extra anchovies, "Can you just chop some up and put 'em right into the sauce?" (season 3, episode 16, "The One The Morning After"). I feel like in the 80s and early 90s pop culture, there were a lot of jokes about anchovies and how disgusting they are. I remember the references in movies and on TV shows but it was always lost on me; I had never eaten an anchovy before.

Now, I am up to buying a can a week and am still not sure what the joke is about. I am loving anchovies! The impetus for the sudden increase in my consumption is Julia Turshen's incredible caesar salad dressing recipe, from her book "Small Victories". It is creamy and tangy but not gloopy. It coats lettuce beautifully and I love keeping a batch of it stashed in my refrigerator for quick salad meals. I really should save myself the weekly hassle and pick-up more than one tin at a time or do they sell a small case of canned anchovies at Costco?

I do, however, have a couple of long-standing issues with the classic caesar salad. Here is my George Costanza rant (I am apparently all about the 90s TV references today):
The first issue is that the simplicity of the components (lettuce, shredded cheese, croutons, dressing) make for a thin meal. Three years ago I did a month of Whole 30, and one of the things I learned is that I get pretty bored by just a lettuce salad and that is kind of what Caesar salad is. Sure, it totally has it's place as an appetizer or side dish but, for a meal, I want a little more heft and variety to it.

My second issue is croutons- pretty standard to the caesar salad, I have struggled for my own crouton solution. Grocery store pre-made croutons seem over processed but I am pretty intimidated to make them from scratch. (I know Ina Garten does it and makes it looks so easy, but the couple of times I've tried, the results have been less than successful). I also don't like how dried out croutons are so that when I try to stab them with a fork that is also loaded up with lettuce, they just sort of crumble apart. I end up with crouton crummies but not the satisfaction of the full crunch. Or maybe I have been trying to eat them wrong all this time. Am I supposed to just eat croutons whole, by themselves?

This recipe is my attempt to address my two, very specific, pet peeves about caesar salads. For the first issue, lack of variety and bulk, I add a julienne of veggies to the standard romaine. I use cabbage, bell peppers and radish because, like romaine, they have a high watery crunch factor but also add flavor, texture, color and nutrients. For the second issue, my crouton struggle, I add a bread element that is less intimidating: I make toast. I make toast and then rub it with a garlic clove and tear it up. The result has the caramelized bread exterior that a crouton provides but is still chewy inside so it soaks up dressing a bit better and is more easily stabbed with a fork. No more crouton crummies.

If, like me, you also have similar qualms with caesar salad, I'd encourage you to give the recipe below a try. If your love of caesar salad is hang-up free, please still make Julia Turshen's Caesar dressing. It is vastly superior to any bottled dressing.

caesar salad with julienned veggies and garlicky toast croutons
(serves 2-4)

5 cups of chopped romaine lettuce (about 1 head)
2 cups shredded red cabbage (about 1/4 of a head of cabbage)
1-2 cups julienned bell pepper (1 medium yellow or red bell pepper)
1 cup julienned radishes (about 4 large radishes)
1 batch of Julia Turshen Caesar salad dressing (see recipe below)
3-4 slices of good bread for toast croutons (see recipe below)
for serving: additional freshly grated parmesan cheese and black pepper

1) Make the dressing and stick in the fridge to let the flavors mingle while you set about prepping the veggies. (see recipe below)

2) In a large salad bowl, add the chopped lettuce, cabbage, bell pepper, and radishes and give a good toss to mix together. Set aside while you make the toast croutons (see recipe below).

3) To the salad mixture, add about half of the dressing and using a large spoon, mix the veggies in the dressing until evenly coated. I always start out adding a smaller amount of dressing than I think I'll need because it's easy to add more dressing but frustrating to fix an overly dressed salad. Taste a bite of salad to determine if it meets your dressing preference. Add more dressing if desired.

4) Toss in the toast croutons, give it all a big stir, and serve immediately with additional freshly grated parmesan cheese and black pepper.

caesar salad dressing 

1 small garlic clove, minced
4 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

1) The original cookbook instructions call for pureeing all of the above in a blender or food processor OR whisking by hand. I go for the hand whisk method: in a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, anchovy fillets, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired (I like the dressing with lots of pepper). Refrigerate dressing until needed.

garlicky toast croutons

The number of slices of bread to toast up depends on the number of folks eating the salad. I think a good rule is one slice per person. The recipe as written below is for 3-4 people, but feel free to adjust accordingly.

3-4 slices of good bread (I like sourdough)
6-8 teaspoons olive oil (or 2 teaspoons olive oil per slice of bread)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half

1) Preheat oven broiler to high setting.

2) Places slices of bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking dish. Brush the upside with olive oil and set the sheet under the broiler. Keep a close eye on it and cook until bread is evenly toasted. I think this took about 2 minutes for me. Remove pan from the oven, flip the bread slices over so that now the uncooked size is facing up. Brush slices with remaining olive oil and return pan to under the broiler.

3) Once bread is toasted, remove from oven and rub the cut side of the garlic clove over the bread slices (both sides). The heat from the toast will start to "melt" the garlic clove into the bread. It's pretty cool but take care because the garlic really packs a punch and it is quite easy to over do it.

4) Tear bread into bite sized pieces and add to salad greens.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

pear, cardamom and toasted oat scones

Yesterday was awful. I am heartsick for the victims, and their loved ones, from the tragic shooting in Las Vegas. While I have not considered this space one in which to discuss the particulars of such a tragedy, it also feels wrong to not acknowledge it. I do not have the right words to share but I do know that we must do better. Personally, I am praying, reading, learning and talking about what that might look like, what I can do. In the meantime, I wish I could give us all a big hug and gather in my kitchen and feed you scones.

This recipe is a riff on the original (and my all-time favorite) scone recipe, here. The version below actually started out it's life as a peach scone but I couldn't get it quite right. The peaches were so juicy that the moisture overwhelmed the mixture. I then had the idea to add in oats, to sort of help soak it all up, but never circled back to make it while the peaches were still ripe. Peaches are almost old news around here and so, with fall temperatures, we are on to pears.

(Can I confess I am getting a little worried for myself and winter? It has been 19 years since I experienced an actual winter. The daily highs now are in the low 60s, with evening temperatures in the high 30s. I am not sure what I am going to do when it drops another 30 degrees. The other day I looked at a pair of sandals discarded by the front door and thought "well, time to put those away" which was a weird thought because in SoCal, my wardrobe was basically year-round. Sure, there would be a couple weeks of cool temps but generally the weather would bounce back to 70s, so summer shoes etc were never really put away. I am all excited to have four seasons again, but man, sh#t is getting real.)

Last week my family came to visit and I took them to one of my favorite local spots, The Daily Bread & Mercantile. Everything they sell is from scratch and their sandwiches, on homemade bread, are crazy good. In addition to our lunch order, my mom, younger sister, and Josh and I all shared a warmed up pear and cardamom scone, which we promptly devoured and then ordered a second one. I have no shame when it comes to baked goods. The combination of pear and cardamom was perfect and reminded me that I had a scone recipe to work on. The addition of oats lends a lovely nutty chewiness to the scone texture. I also love that these are not overly sweet, which I think makes them good for breakfast. If I were to serve them for an afternoon tea, I might consider a light powder sugar glaze to up their pastry factor.

The original scone recipe calls for 2/3 cup half-n-half. I rarely have half-in-half in my house and so, in a liquid measuring cup, I pour 1/2 cup of heavy cream and then add milk until it measures up to the 2/3 cup line (basically adding 1/6 cup of milk to 1/2 cup heavy cream). You are welcome to use the 2/3 cup half-in-half or if, like me, you have heavy cream in the house, thin it out with a bit of milk.

For the idea to toast the oats, I am indebted to Julia Turshen's wonderful cookbook, Small Victories. It may be a bit fiddly of a step, but adds another element of flavor and is really is not much of an effort: I think I unloaded the dishwasher while the oats toasted in the oven.

I hope you will make and share these with someone you love; that we can be comforted and be of comfort to others too.

pear, cardamom and toasted oat scones

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick rolled oats, toasted (directions below)
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground caradmom
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and large cubed
2/3 cup half-n-half OR 1/2 cup heavy cream + 1/6 cup milk = 2/3 cup (see note above)
3/4 cup cubed fresh ripe pear (about 1 medium sized pear)

1 tablespoon half-in-half or heavy cream
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar (you can easily substitute regular white sugar too)

1) Preheat oven to 350. Spread the oats in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in oven, stirring occasionally, for about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove oats from oven and increase oven temp to 425 (425 is the temp to bake the scones at).

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt.

3) Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3) Stir in 2/3 cup half-and-half (or thinned heavy cream) until just moistened. Gently fold in pears.

4) On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently, 5 to 10 times. Pat into a 1 inch thick round. Cut into 8 wedges. Place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, 2 inches apart. You'll want to do this step rather quickly, as the pears will start to release their juices and the dough will become increasingly sticky. (ie not a good time to stop and check instagram.) In the original scone recipe, you can put in the dough in the fridge overnight. I don't think I would recommend doing that with this version as I believe the pears would break down too much.

5) Brush tops of the scone wedges with remaining tablespoon half-and-half (or heavy cream) and sprinkle with tablespoon of turbinado sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.