Kitchen Basics: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Pretty quiet around here just now- it’s mid to late summer and I’m working hard to keep my mind in the moment– it is STILL summer, despite the feeling that it is almost over.  I’m trying to work out as often as I can, to hang with the kids (my oldest is in a day camp this week  and it’s breaking both our hearts!), and to be in the pool as much as possible.

All that said, I am also trying to see friends as often as I can.  The other night, for example, I heading to a friend’s house to drink wine, eat snacks and gossip.  I brought an easy and always appreciated snack, deviled eggs.  Some people like to get super fancy with their eggs and add mushrooms, bacon, chives, etc.  I keep mine super simple and traditional- nothing but the filling and a sprinkle of paprika.  Yum.

Deviled eggs were one of the first things I ever consciously saw made without a recipe (My grandmother almost always cooked without a recipe but I didn’t realize it at the time.).  It was summer, when my cousins and I were staying with my grandmother.  We were probably around 11 or so.  It was afternoon and we had spent the morning in the pool, watching stand up comedy on television and giggling.  Emily decided that she wanted deviled eggs.  Melanie agreed that this was a good idea.  I had never had a deviled egg but I almost never say no to food.

Off to the kitchen we went and I watched as Emily and Melanie made hard boiled eggs, peeled them, scooped out the yolk and mixed it into a bright yellow filling, no measurements, no recipe.  They used spoons to fill the eggs, added a sprinkle of paprika and then handed one to me.

I bit into it and my life was altered.  Slightly spicy and tart, creamy and cool- it was the perfect snack.  We made them many times over that summer and I’ve since bonded with The Hippo over them (It’s her southern heritage showing through).

The problem with deviled eggs is the hard boiling of eggs.  I can never, for the life of me, ever recall how long you’re supposed to boil the eggs.  Then there’s the peeling.  I am horrid at peeling hard boiled eggs.  I don’t have the patience, I get very frustrated and I usually end up ripping away most of the egg white.  When I peel them, the hard boiled eggs tend to look like someone was gnawing on them.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_18So, to the internet I went, in search of a way to make the eggs easier to peel and the amount of time needed to cook them.  If you do a search like this, you’ll see (as I did) that there are a number of ways to achieve the perfect hard boiled egg.

I tried the thumb tack method.  Basically, you prick the round end of the egg with a thumb tack or safety pin or something so that you break the air bubble that’s in there.  This makes the eggs easier to peel after they’re boiled.  And don’t leave the thumb tack in while you boil them.  This method worked for me!

Emily and Melanie’s Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

Eggs (Remember that one egg makes two deviled eggs and plan accordingly)- I usually use a whole dozen

yellow (not dijon, not brown, nothing fancy) mustard– about two to four tablespoons

mayonnaise– about two to four tablespoons

salt, pepper and paprika to taste

*Note about measurements:  I never measure.  I use a few spoonfuls or squirts and then taste.  I’m guess at the tablespoon measurement above based on how it looks.  You’ll have to taste as you go and start by adding less than you think you need– always easier to add more than to take away what’s already in there.

Directions 

Prick your eggs with a thumb tack.  Do this on the fatter, rounder end.  Place them in a saucepan and cover with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about an inch.  Put them on the stove to boil, over high heat.  Once the water is good and boiling (big bubbles, lots of steam), boil the eggs for one minute.  Then take them off the heat and cover the pot.  Let them stand for ten minutes (off the heat but covered).My HipstaPrint 973334217After ten minutes has passed, pour out all the water and shake the pan around, causing the eggs to smash against each other and crack.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_13Now fill your pan up with cold water and ice cubes.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_6Wait five minutes and then drain out the water and any leftover ice.  You are now ready to peel.  The method that worked well for me was to sort of roll the egg around on the counter, cracking the entire shell in kind of a spiderweb way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_12Then peel the eggshell off.  Doing it near and under running water can help get all the little bits of shell off.  I found that with this thumb tack method, the shells slipped off more easily and in bigger pieces.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_5(Yes, one short of a dozen.  The husband always requires a hard boiled egg for him to eat plain.)  Next get a bowl ready and slice your eggs in half.  I find that if you do it lengthwise, there’s slightly more stability when you put them on a plate than if you do it the other way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_4Scoop out the beautifully yellow yolk and dump into your bowl.  Set the egg white aside.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_11My HipstaPrint 973334217_17Once all the yolks are in the bowl, add the mustard and mayo.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_16Mix all together.  I use a fork but you could certainly use a whisk or a hand mixer.  It seems like the perfect use for The Hippo’s army fork.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_3Now taste it and add salt, pepper and maybe more mayo or mustard, depending.  Want it more spicy?  Up the mustard.  Want it more creamy?  Mayo it is.  Once it tastes as you want it to taste, get out a ziploc bag.  Scoop that filling into the bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_9Get as much of the air out as possible and sort of squish that filling into one corner.  Then ziploc it.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_2Snip off just the smallest bit of the corner.  Mazel tov, you’ve just made a piping bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_15Place all your egg whites on a plate or platter that you plan to serve from- as long as it will fit into the fridge, you should be set.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_10Use the piping bag to fill each egg white with the yellow-y goodness.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_8About halfway through, I always think there won’t be enough filling.  There always is.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_1Garnish with a bit of paprika.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_7Try not to eat them all since you are supposed to be sharing, right?

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Homemade Comfort

Rough times here, long story, nothing that impacts me personally but impacting my work life and, as a result, I’ve been working looooong hours.  So last Saturday, in a few hours of at home time, I decided to make chicken tacos which always feel like a comfort food to me.

I took it a step further and made my own tortillas.  I can not recommend this more.  They were easy, didn’t take much time and were so delicious.  Soft, flaky, thick- just the kind of comfort carb I crave when things are hard.  So, when times are tough, pull together the simple ingredients and make yourself some tortillas to serve with soup, chicken or even solo.  Yum.

Flour Tortillas

Ingredients

2 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water

3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Directions

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.

photo 1Combine the water and oil in a measuring cup.  Don’t bother trying to mix it- we all know oil and water don’t mix…

photo 2Pour the liquid into the flour and stir.  You’ll have a kind of shaggy dough.

photo 3Once it’s mostly combined, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it’s smooth- maybe 12 times or so- adding flour or water as needed to make a soft, smooth dough.

photo 4Let it rest for about ten minutes.  Then shape it into a sort of log shape.

photo 1Divide it into eight pieces.  I did this by cutting it in half and then cutting each half in half.  Then I divided those in half… you get the idea.

photo 2photo 3Flatten and using a rolling pin, roll each piece into about 7- 8 inch circles.  I suck at this.

photo 4I can’t ever make true circles and if I were going to make tortillas on a regular basis I might think about investing in a tortilla press.  For now I’ll just go with the imperfect shape.

Heat a frying pan over medium high heat.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray or lightly oil it.  Once the pan is hot, throw in one tortilla.

photo 5Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the underside starts to brown and blister.  Then flip and cook another minute.

photo 2Keep them warm in a low oven until you are ready to serve them.  Fill with cheese, beans, meat, veggies, whatever.  Or eat plain. They are really good. Y’know, if you like carbs.

photo 5

5774

L’shanah tovah!  Happy new year!  Once again, Rosh HaShanah is upon us.  This year it came so very early.  So early, in fact, that it is still 80 degrees and no one feels like eating fall food.

photo 1

Family photo for the new year.

Which is handy since this year, for the first time in at least ten years (probably more), I did not host a gathering for the holiday.  I started adjuncting (is that a word) at a new college yesterday and was not able to either cancel my class (first one of the semester) or manage to cook for all.  I had thought maybe a brunch today but most of those who would attend were working (naturally).

So it was just a small family dinner this time.  I made a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed greens (leeks, kale and spinach with garlic), cole slaw (I had some cabbage to use up) and cauliflower. Not really holiday food.  But the desserts…. those involved the apple and honey that the holiday requires.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_15I made individual upside-down honey apple cakes and a honey walnut apple crisp.  Neither were particularly fancy or pretty but both were pretty delicious and homey feeling.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from his How to Cook Everything book– but I have the app on my iphone– it was free or very, very discounted at one point- and it was ok.  Kind of bland so if I were to do it again, I’d probably up the apples and maybe incorporate them into the batter as well.  The apple crisp was a total improvisation.

Either way, I wish you all a new year filled with joy, laughter, happiness and love and free from pain, sorrow and hardship.  Happy 5774!

Mini Honey Apple Upside Down Cake (Mark Bittman)

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

2-3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

a few tablespoons of honey

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and use it to liberally grease the muffin tins- along the sides as well as the bottom.  You may not use all the butter but there should be a good amount in the tin when you’re done.  Sprinkle the brown sugar in the bottom of each muffin slot.

Peel, core and chop your apples.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_14MIx them with the honey so that they are coated.  Sprinkle these into the muffin slots on top of the brown sugar.  Set this aside.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_13In a medium bowl, mix the salt, sugar, flour and baking soda.  Technically, Mark suggests to mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and to add them gradually to the dry ingredients.  I did not do this.  Instead, I dump the wet, unmixed, into the bowl and then mixed it all that way.  Either way you choose, add the buttermilk, eggs, and the rest of the butter (melted) to the dry ingredients and beat until combined.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_11Pour the batter into each muffin tin, ensuring that all the apples are covered.  Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_6Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Run a knife or soft spatula around the sides of each muffin to loosen them.  Then, place something large, like a sheet pan over them.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_4Flip this over.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_3Each little cake should release.  If it doesn’t, sort of wiggle and shake the pan and if that still doesn’t work, use the soft spatula to scrape out the rest and sort of put it back together with your fingers.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_1Let them cool a bit before you eat them as the sugar/butter/apple combo is the temperature, roughly, of molten lava.

I had lots of apples leftover and so made a sort of shallow dish apple crisp.

Improvised Apple Crisp

Ingredients

1-2 peeled, chopped apples

few tablespoons of honey

dash or two of cinnamon

1/2-1 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar (white)

1 stick of butter, cool, sliced into cubes

Directions

Toss your apples with the honey and cinnamon.  Add the walnuts and place into a shallow-ish baking dish.  I used a pie plate.  (Full disclosure- I forgot I had walnuts and added them in on top of the apples but under the topping.  If I did it again, I’d mix it in with the apples so this is a case of do as I say, not as I did!)

My HipstaPrint 995575301_10

In a small bowl, mix the flour and sugar. You can add some cinnamon here, if you like.  Cube your butter.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_9

With clean hands or a pastry cutter, add the butter.  Mush it around until it’s sort of sandy and pebbly feeling.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_8

Spread/sprinkle the topping over the walnut-apple mixture.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_7Bake at 425 for 10-20 minutes or until the top starts to brown.  Turn the oven down to 350 and bake until the apples are tender.

My HipstaPrint 995575301

Celebrate Summer

For me, summer means corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  On the cob, sautéed, in corn pudding.  Corn everywhere.  There really isn’t anything like fresh corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt.

My grandmother used to come home with sweet corn every. single. day. in the summer because my grandfather loved it so.  He’d eat several ears each night.  Which meant lots of shucking corn took place pre-dinner.  We’d sit on the deck, the afternoon sun turning into a cooler evening one,  a paper bag between us and see who could shuck faster.  It still feels a bit wrong to me to shuck corn inside.

It’s been a bit gray here for the last few days, which is not something I’m complaining about since prior to these dark(er) days, it’s been sunny, 90+ degrees and humid.  It’s nice to have some relief and a change.  It also means that I can use corn in another favorite way, chowder.

Last year I read somewhere about making corn broth.  I tried it and was blown away.  Sweet, light, fresh and delicate.  I put it into a corn chowder and could truly taste the difference.  Of course, I can’t remember where I read about it and I have the suspicious feeling that I may have blogged about it at the time– a quick search through the posts here and I couldn’t find it so maybe I just thought really hard about blogging it.  Or maybe this is my second time talking about it which would suggest that you really should try it; it’s that good.

So, based on my need for corn broth, I threw together this chowder recipe.  It’s more of a soup than a chowder because while it’s cooler here, 70’s does not scream thick, heavy chowder to me.  Let’s call it more of a summer chowder.  Chowder-lite.  Nothing lite about the taste though.  And you’ll still have to shuck corn.  Ready?  Go!

Summer Corn Chowder

Ingredients

4-6 ears of corn, shucked

about 8 small red potatoes (or one to two larger)

half of a large onion or one small onion (I prefer sweet but yellow would be fine)

one half to one of a sweet red pepper (optional for those of you who don’t like pepper)

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups corn broth (wait for it, I’ll tell you how) or chicken broth or veg broth or water

1/2-1 cup milk

Directions

First, we make the broth.  Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn.  Set them aside, as we’ll be using them later.  Using a fork, sort of scrape down the ears of corn into a large soup pot.  Throw in the ears themselves and add enough water to cover.  Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for as long as you can.  You may need to add more water if it gets too low (i.e. most of the cob isn’t covered).  I was somewhat lazy when I cut my kernels off.  You can see that there are some still on.

photo 2

After it simmers for at least an hour or longer if you like, take out the ears of corn and discard them.  They’ve served their delicious purpose.  Pour the broth through a fine sieve so that all the solids stay behind.

photo 3You will be left with what looks like, unfortunately, urine.  Which can lead to some funny conversations if left in your fridge in a glass container.  But if you take a spoonful, you will be rewarded with the light, delicate, sweet flavor of corn in liquid form.  Try not to drink it all please.

photo 4Now that the broth is made, get to work on the rest.  Peel and chop your onion.  Clean and chop your pepper and potatoes.  Small dice is good for the onion, a little bit chunkier for the potato.

photo 1Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup or stock pot.  Once it’s melted, add the onion and saute until soft- don’t let it burn or brown.  You may need to lower the heat.

photo 5 Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, until they are soft as well.  Nothing should burn or brown.  Sprinkle the flour all over and stir well.  Let it cook over medium heat for a minute in order to get the raw flour taste out.

photo 2Pour the broth in and stir.  It will thicken a bit- I used a bit less flour because I wanted it thick but not too thick- feel free to experiment with this to taste.

photo 3Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can add a little bit of milk as well, to make it even more creamy or you can serve without.  Either way, it’s the perfect cold-for-summer-weather-soup.

photo 4

BBQ U, day 2 – teamwork!

After day one’s successful cooking and presentation, the stakes were higher for those of us who had yet to cook.  Part of the “graduation requirement” from BBQ U is that everyone participate in preparing and cooking at least one recipe.  J and I attempted to strategize the night before by reviewing the scheduled agenda.  Day 2?  Ribs!

Menu:

  • Grilled clams with Sambuca and Italian sausage
  • Mini chicken, bread, and cheese spiedini
  • Peking duck buns with pineapple salsa
  • Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney
  • Spice-rubbed baby back ribs with dark and stormy barbecue sauce
  • Brazilian rib roast with ember-charred salsa
  • Cajun grilled okra with smoky remoulade
  • Grilled angel food cake with fruit salsa and tequila-whipped cream

This is the point at which I confess that I do not grill.  At all.  I love to cook, I will help with endless amounts of prep, and will sous chef with the best of them, but I have totally abdicated all grilling responsibilities to J.  I have started the grill, though.  Twice.  So really, I was the personification of beginner in this class.  I can pretty much guarantee that everyone had more grilling experience than I did.  And charcoal grills?  Cooking over smoldering briquettes?  Sweet fancy Moses, that’s just crazy talk.  What do you mean I can’t just press a button and fire up the propane?

J does an excellent job grilling, but we’ve only prepared ribs once, and we were less than thrilled with how they came out.  So when we saw that day 2 was ribs, we were ready.  When Steve called for volunteers for the Tandoori lamb ribs with three herb chutney, our hands shot up.  And I immediately thought, “Please let the other two team members have rib-grilling experience, or we may very well be the first people to flunk out of BBQ U.”

Fate had it that we were paired with Charlie from Chicago, a third-time BBQ University attendee (and former chef & restaurant owner!) and Rob from Kentucky who writes Countryside Food Rides, both of whom love ribs and had extensive experience cooking them.  It felt a little bit like having barbecue Cliff notes, but I am not one to quibble.  This was increasing my chances of getting a diploma.  The magic fairies who do all the grunt work produced a tray full of covered dishes with pre-measured ingredients, and we began mixing the marinade and the chutney.  So much easier when it’s all measured out! image

Tandoori lamb ribs in marinade, ready for grilling

Tandoori lamb ribs in marinade, ready for grilling

We were ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  (Sorry, bad pun.)  Steve decreed we would be using the Big Green Egg cooker, which J was delighted by as he has been trying to decide between an Egg and a Weber Performer.  Because then we could each have our own grill to cook on.  Or he could make twice as much at once. It keeps the heat out of my kitchen in the summer, which is all I care about!

Here’s where I found the only bad part of this class – once you start preping ingredients with your team & getting ready to cook, listening to Steve just doesn’t happen.  You’re so focused on what you need to do to get ready to grill, plus the noise of the other teams around you, that you can’t follow what he’s talking about.  Fortunately, he seems to impart all the really key information at the beginning of class, before he starts asking for volunteers to prepare the different recipes.  This is pretty much the only criticism I can come up with for this program, and it’s pretty minor.  (I also don’t know how you’d get around it.)

image Out to the grilling patio we went with our ribs.  Steve circled by with the members of the class who weren’t cooking to check the heat in the Egg and then said to me, “Ok, let’s have you put the grill grate in there.”  And I thought, “Hmmm…” because like I told all of you (but not Steve), I don’t grill.  (Well, I didn’t. Until right then.)  It’s running through my mind that the grill is hot so I need something to grab the grate with before placing it in the Egg, and as I’m processing this Rob jumped in and offered to do it, which then gave Steve the opportunity to suggest his special grill grabber tool.  This all took about 20 seconds, by the way, but it felt like 20 minutes.  It was just like school when the teacher asks you a question and you have no earthly idea what the answer is, and then the bell rings and you are saved.  The grate went in, the ribs went on, and we were off to the races: image image Lamb ribs take a bit of time, so we swapped off watching to make sure they weren’t burning with wandering around to see what everyone else was making.  It was quite the assortment: image image image We also got into a conversation about grills with several people – many people had Webers and were staunch advocates, several others had the Big Green Egg and sang their praises.  We spent some time debating the merits with the rest of Team Tandoori, all while the ribs cooked.  Several people wandered by as we were testing some of the ribs and were invited to sample to see how they were doing.  It was like a neighborhood barbecue, if your neighbors live all over the country (and all over the world; there were several folks there from overseas) and treat barbecue like a religion. When we were done, we brought the finished ribs and grilled lemon halves into the classroom for plating:

Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney

Tandoori lamb ribs with herb chutney

Sprinkled all around those ribs is minced cilantro, probably the only time that cilantro will be featured on this blog since Stella Carolyn hates it.  We put our finished product in with the rest of the dishes for the professor’s opinion.

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Grilled okra with smoky remoulade sauce & grilled corn

Grilled okra with smoky remoulade sauce & grilled corn

 

image image A funny thing happened on day two at lunch.  Rather than help themselves from the buffet, people were eating directly off the class-prepared display table.  We had figured out yesterday that what we made as class projects, because it was on a smaller scale, tasted much better.  So the buffet line was empty, and everyone was crowded around the class projects:

image image

Now, I am generally not a lamb person – offered the opportunity to have it and I will pass.  This might stem from childhood when my grandmother would occasionally cook a leg of lamb for a holiday, and serve it with mint jelly.  Still deep in nursery rhyme territory, I couldn’t help but associate dinner with Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep.  It was probably back then that I developed a slight aversion to the consistency of the meat & the taste.  But that was before.  These ribs were amazing – on their own, with the chutney – this non-lover of lamb had three ribs.  And we immediately made a plan to do this recipe at home over the 4th of July for my parents’ anniversary, it was that good.

I also discovered an unknown love for okra.  I’ve had it in soup but I had never had fresh okra until I tasted that dish put together by my classmates.  The smoky remoulade sauce was just the icing on the cake – I could not get enough of it.  I even got some from the buffet.  It was that good.

Day 3 – don’t mess with Texas, everyone’s all in, and graduation – maybe.

Team Tandoori – it was almost 100 degrees when this photo was taken

Freezing

It is 3 degrees here.  3.  My daughter can count higher than the current temperature.  WTF.  To be fair, this is the first time it has been this cold so far this winter.  And we’ve not had a lot of snow so I shouldn’t really be complaining.  But, wow, holy cow it is it cold!

photo 1

Work has been really busy, I’ve been really busy so I haven’t been cooking anything interesting.  Lots of soups, stir-fry and that kind of thing.  Quick, easy and filling.  Plus, I’m trying (again) to avoid baking so that there isn’t so much sugar in our house.  We’re somewhat addicted to sugar (should I be concerned that my daughter who is almost three can recognize both Dunkin’ Donuts (we almost never go!) and JP Licks (okay, we go there a lot) and knows what they sell??)?

Last night I got home a little bit earlier than usual and my husband was home which is something that almost never happens together.  My daughter spied a bag of tortilla strips and wanted that for a snack.  Since they were open, I thought perhaps I could use them in dinner.  So I pulled out a bunch of ingredients with no real plan and started cooking.  My husband joked that it could be an episode of Chopped and then he threw in some maple syrup and peanut butter and said, “NOW it’s Chopped.”

This is what we ended up with and it was pretty good.  I’m not sure what to call it, nor can I call it pretty but I can call it filling, delicious and pretty healthy.  I’ll give ballpark directions but I didn’t photograph the way I usually do, I apologize.

Tasty Sort of Mexican Casserole

Ingredients

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 C frozen corn

Meat from one store bought rotisserie chicken (probably about 1-2 cups), shredded

1 can whole tomatoes

garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, chili powder, cumin

a whole lot of shredded cheese

crushed tortilla chips or strips, about 1-2 cups

tortillas (small), about three

Directions

In a large pan heat a bit of oil and cook the onions until soft and slightly brown.  Add the pepper and cook for a few minutes to let the pepper soften.  Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands and pouring in all the juice.  Let this cook over medium high heat for a few minutes so that it will thicken a bit.  Add the corn and beans.  Let this cook for another few minutes.  Add the spices and the shredded chicken.  Cook until heated through.  If you want to throw in other leftovers like cooked rice or crumbled cornbread, feel free– I did and it made it somewhat thicker, which was fine with me.

Preheat your oven to 375.  Spray or butter a casserole dish.  Place the tortillas on the bottom, sort of overlapping so they make a base or crust.  Spoon about a third of the tomato mixture on top.  Cover with cheese and crushed tortilla chips.  Spoon another third of the tomato mixture, top with cheese and chips and repeat until you’re out of space or filling.  End with cheese topped with crushed chips.

Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the dish is heated through.

photo 4Serve with sour cream or greek yogurt (what we use).

photo 3It’s not pretty but it’s yummy and filling and….

photo 5All gone!

Make sure to serve other things to those who won’t yet dig into a dish like this.

photo 2

Not Your Bubbe’s Latkes

It’s still Chanukah so I wanted to give you one more holiday recipe to try before the holiday that celebrates all that is oil is over.  (For an interesting take on what Chanukah truly means, read this NYT article, written by a high school friend).  The basic potato latke can be found here.  I thought I’d try to jazz it up with a sweet potato version.  I was in a hurry so some of the measurements are a bit sketchy but if you’ve made the white potato version, you have an idea of the texture you need.

Sweet Potato Latkes

Ingredients

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes

3-4 eggs

1/2 cup- 3/4 cup flour

1-2 teaspoons baking powder

salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste

oil for frying

Directions:

Peel your sweet potato.  I had an abnormally large one which also looks kind of…phallic.

photo 1

Grate your sweet potato.  I use the cuisenart but you could do it by hand.  Be careful of your fingers.

photo 2

In a bowl, mix the potato with the eggs, spices, flour and baking powder.  You want to make sure the potato is coated well and that the mixture is spoonable into a pan.  It won’t be a batter like for true pancakes but it will still work, trust me.  photo 3Heat some oil- a tablespoon or so- in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Not so high that the oil will burn but hot enough so that the oil is sort of shimmering and the batter will sizzle when added.  Add about a tablespoonful of batter and flatten it with the back of the spoon.  Cook until browned and then carefully flip.

photo 4

Cook until browned and eat immediately.

photo 5

So, these were delicious.  I didn’t add onion, which is used in traditional latkes, because I wanted the sweet potato to be the star.  I experimented with the flour throughout and realized that I prefer mine with less flour- it makes them more crispy and potato-y.  Regardless they were great- I didn’t even need sour cream or applesauce, though both would have been good.  Bonus?  Sweet potatoes are better for you than white- more fiber, antioxidents, folate (for those of you trying to conceive or currently gestating) and a lower glycemic index.  Plus, as stated above, just damn delicious.

As we head into this crazy holiday season, I wish you and your family love, joy, laughter and stomachs full to the brim with delicious, comforting, satisfying food.

 

(Not so) Fast Food

What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?  Mine used to be Chicken Nuggets, at least until I saw Food Inc.  That quickly took them off the table for me. I also adore Friendly’s   peanut butter sauce (which is quickly becoming scarce as they are going bankrupt all over the place).  But in real life, for all of my life, it has been Chinese as the go-to take out or pick up or delivery in a pinch.  As a liberal, reform Jew, it is traditional to have Chinese food on Christmas Eve or Day.  My husband, a Catholic, has said that he likes Chinese food, he just doesn’t like it the way I do.  What can I say?  It is the non-traditional food of my people.

It only stands to reason, then, that I learned how to make some of my favorite Chinese food dishes.  In doing so I have learned that some things just take time.  It’s why they make, say, dumplings in bulk.  Because while the act of cooking the dumpling isn’t bad, it the filling and shaping that takes time.  Lots of time.  Which is to say, here I give you my recipe for dumplings and spring rolls along with a warning- it will take time.  Recruit some friends to help, sit around the table and gab while you each fill dumplings.  Then freeze the ones you don’t cook that day for later when you do want fast(er) food.

Chicken and Vegetable Dumplings and Spring Rolls

Ingredients

1 lb ground chicken or dark meat turkey (traditional uses pork but I prefer chicken)

1/2 head of green cabbage

2-4 carrots, peeled

pinch of Chinese 5 spice powder

Soy sauce- a few tablespoons

hoisin sauce- a few tablespoons or to taste

dark Chinese vinegar- a few tablespoons

sesame and/or peanut oil- few tablespoons (are you sensing a pattern here?)

Chicken broth or water- about a cup.

Dumpling wrappers (square or round) and Spring Roll wrappers

Directions

First, shred your cabbage and carrots.  I use the cuisinart.  You could also save time by purchasing the bagged coleslaw mix.  Set aside for now.

Brown your meat in a saucepan with a little bit of sesame and/or peanut oil.

Add the cabbage and carrot mixture when the meat is mostly cooked through.  Throw in a bit of 5 spice powder (I use about a pinch- it has a strong flavor).

Cook until the cabbage starts to wilt- it will sort of turn translucent.

At this point I usually add a few splashes of soy sauce and vinegar.  If you can find dark soy sauce, that’s even better.  This is the vinegar I use:

Anyway, add those to the pan and let it cook down a bit.  This is also a good time to add some hoisin sauce if you like that.  Taste and adjust to suit yourself.  I end up liking the filling so much that I could eat it all plain.

Once it’s all cooked through and hot, set it aside to cool slightly.  You want it warm but not so hot that you’ll burn your fingers while you’re working.  While it cools, set up your station to fill the wrappers.  You’ll need a sheet pan to put the finished product on, damp towels to cover the finished dumplings as well as the wrapper skins, a small bowl with a bit of water and enough space to spread out and work.  You may also want to sit for this process.

Ok, start with one spring roll wrapper.  Place it on the counter/table so that it looks like a diamond shape.

Place about 2-3 teaspoons (I actually use an espresso or baby spoon) of filling in the center.  Sort of spread it around a bit so that it makes kind of a log shape.

Pull up the bottom corner over the filling while sort of tucking the filing in and the corner under.

Fold the left corner over.

Fold the right corner over.

Now roll up, towards the top corner, while kind of tucking as you go.

Use a little bit of water to help seal the top corner down- put a drop or two on your finger, moisten the corner and press to seal.

Place seam side down on your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  You should also cover your opened dumpling wrappers with a damp towel so they don’t dry out.  Basically, air will dry out the wrappers and make them brittle and yucky.

Now, to the dumplings.  Start with a dumpling wrapper and add about a teaspoon of filling to the center.  So there are about a zillion different ways to do this and I do it differently each time.  One method is to brush some water along the edges of the wrapper and then bring diagonal corners to meet each other.

You could also try to crimp but that works better with round wrappers, which I wasn’t using.  Instead, I did a sort of tortellini style.  So, fold in half (pull the bottom to meet the top, making sure to moisten the edges first with a little bit of water- too much and it will be too slippery to hold.)

Now, sort of make a u-shape by making an indentation in the center and bringing the corners up to meet each other.

Press the corners together to seal.

Add to your sheet pan and cover with a damp towel.  Repeat until you are out of filling, out of wrappers or out of patience.

Now, in a large fry or saute pan, heat a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Add the dumplings and let them brown on the bottom (whatever you decide the bottom is)- probably about a minute or so.

Once they’re crispy on the bottom, add enough chicken broth or water to cover the bottom of the pan and put on the lid.  Let them cook until the liquid has evaporated- this steams the rest of the wrappers.

Serve with soy sauce or just gobble them all up as they come out of the pan.  So much work, for such a quickly disappearing meal.

For the spring rolls, follow the same steps- heat the oil in the pan and add the spring rolls.

Once they’re crispy on one side, turn and let them crisp up on the second side.

You can serve these alone or along with other dishes as a whole Chinese-themed meal.

Love Story

When I started my pre-doctoral internship, I did it at a site an hour and fifteen minutes from my house.  I figured I could do anything for a year.  In the end, I worked there for over three years and it was one of the best experiences of my life.  What I learned both professionally and personally has stayed with me over the years.  I could go on and on but what I want to tell you about now is one of the people I worked with there.

J. was the other predoctoral intern with me.  I met her for the first time on the day we both went for a tour.  My first impression was that she was gorgeous and clearly incredibly smart.  As the months went by, we became closer and closer and I began to admire her even more.  She was a mother and had given birth to her son at a young age. She was blessed with supportive parents and while her child’s father did not stay in her life, she raised her son and graduated from high school, college and graduate school (predoctoral internship, remember)?
J. was (and still is) kind, compassionate, smart, loving and always ready to see the best and have faith in  those around her.  She will always give those in her life second and third and fourth chances and will always encourage them to do their best.  As you can imagine, this can be both a positive and negative quality.

When I knew her best, J. was involved with a man she’d met a few years prior.  Their relationship was difficult with extreme highs and lows.  They became engaged a few months after I did and they were guests at my wedding.  J. and I began to lose touch after that when she left our common workplace.  We spoke a few times and through our emails and facebook, I saw that she had broken her engagement, met someone new and moved across the country after marrying him.  From all that I can tell now, this was the best decision she ever made.

She and her new husband are incredibly well suited, incredibly happy and, I must say, incredibly beautiful.  J. has found a happy ending to her love story.

But nothing in life is that cut and dry, black and white.  While she’s happy now, she could only get there by taking the path she did.  Her relationship with her former fiancée was difficult but had some good points as well.  One of them was this stew.  She posted about it on Facebook recently and it looked so good that I immediately emailed her, demanding the recipe.  She responded with some guidelines and I went to work.

I cooked a dish that I have never eaten.  I have no idea what it should look or taste like but it did end up being delicious.  I used J’s guidelines and searched the internet for cachupa rica.  This is what I ended up with- the wrong kind of corn (couldn’t find samp so had to use hominy), no plantains but, in the end, still delicious, filling and hardy.  Good for a cold day.  Plus, it made me think about J and her love story the whole time.  Made me happy.

Cachupa Rica (with deepest apologies to all Cape Verdens everywhere)

Ingredients

6 cups golden samp (I used plain hominy because I couldn’t find samp)

4 cups of beans (I used canned kidney and pinto)- You could use dry and soak them with the samp beforehand.

Meats of your choosing.  I used:

chicken thighs (about 4-6 boneless, skinless)

bacon (I used a package)

Chorizo sausage

country stye pork ribs

1 large onion

Lots of garlic

2 peeled carrots, cut into chunks

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

between 6-10 cups of chicken broth

Directions:

I made it all in one pot.  J. makes it across several.  Because I used canned hominy and beans, I didn’t need to cook them separately.

Start by chopping up your bacon and browning it in a large pot.  Take out the bacon once it is crisp and add your sausage (chopped).  Let that brown up as well and then take it out and set it aside with the bacon.

Season your chicken with salt and pepper.  Add them to the pot with the bacon/sausage fat and brown them as well.

Once they’re brown on each side, set them aside with the bacon and sausage.

Finally, brown your short ribs in the pot.

It’s a lot of meat.  (insert dirty comment here)  Now, chop up your onion and garlic and brown it in the pot with all the fat left from the meat.  Maybe not all.  Maybe drain a bit of the fat, leaving about a tablespoon.

While the onions are cooking, peel and roughly chop your sweet potato and carrots.

Add them to the onions and let them brown a bit as well.

Once the veggies have started to soften and brown a little, add the hominy.

Add the beans and meats back in and then cover the whole thing with chicken broth.  Let it simmer over lowish heat for a long time.

J.  suggests making a sofrito of onion, garlic and tomato paste which you can then add for more flavor.  She also suggests a bay leaf or two (removed before serving) and some coriander.  Not my favorite flavors so I left them out.  J. also reminded me that if you were using samp and dry beans, you’d want to let them get good and tender (about an hour) before adding the veggies and meats back in- otherwise they’ll get too soft and be mushy.

Serve with lots of broth.  Mmmm.

J also suggests frying some of it the next morning (minus the broth), letting a good crisp form on the hominy/samp, and serving it with fried eggs.  I could see that being delicious.

A Sticky Situation

I love carbs.  I know that nutritionally speaking they are not the go-to snack, particularly for those of us that need to watch our weight gain.  Nonetheless, I love carbs.  Potatoes, rice, pasta, cookies, cakes, bread….  I love carbs.

I have tried to love quinoa but so far we’re only in a “like-like” situation.  It’s not true love.  My true love is rice.  White rice.  I’ll tolerate brown but when I eat it, I feel like I’m being good.  White rice is my hide-in-the-closet, don’t-tell-anyone carb.  White rice with butter, catsup, salt and pepper.  White rice with soy sauce.  White rice with hoisin sauce.  I just love white rice.

So it’s funny that I have had this bag of japanese sweet rice in my pantry for…..years.

I was intrigued by the idea of sweet rice but each time I read the package directions I was daunted.  It involves a good rinse, followed by a 12 hour soak and then some fancy steaming.  This is not rice of the throw it in the rice cooker and wait 20 minutes variety.

This week I decided it was time to try.  I read up on rice to try and figure out what was really needed.  I found lots of different answers and finally decided to just go with the instructions on the package.

The night before I wanted it, I rinsed the rice well in a colander.  I swished it around with my fingers and tried to get the water to run clear.

Once that was done, I dumped it into a bowl and covered it with cold water.  It sat overnight.  Then the complicated process began.

I lined a steamer pot with cheesecloth.  I admit it, I was lazy and didn’t line it as well as I should have.  I set this pot over another pot with boiling water.  The rice was dumped in and spread out as much as possible.

The lid went on and the timer was set for 25 minutes.

I checked it after 25 minutes and added some salt, per the package instructions.  I reset the timer for another 25 minutes and added more boiling water under the steamer pot.  I must confess that I totally did not account for the long cooking time.  At this point, the rest of dinner was ready so I went ahead and served it since the toddler and baby were screaming.  I was hungry too.  I will also cop to having trouble with the cheesecloth lining since I didn’t put it in correctly the first time- the rice was sort of half on it and half on the steamer pot itself.

After another 25 minutes, I was left with….  rice.  Very sticky rice, but simply rice.

I think I’ll try it again at some point. It was good but the sweetness was too subtle for me to notice.  What was different was the texture.  It was sticky and starchy and just the way I like rice.  I was even a nice wife and made a plate for my husband who wasn’t home for dinner.  I may have eaten more rice than was strictly necessary but it was pretty good.  And have I mentioned how much I love rice?