28 February 2014

Blondies: the world's most perfect brownie

I love blondies. Unlike the trade of universally loved chocolate ice cream for boring, cardboard-tasting vanilla ice cream for the sake of being different, the albino cousin of the brownie tastes like browned butter and rich caramelly burnt sugar, and it's dense and satisfyingly chewy.  I love them naked, and I love them as a canvas for whatever bits and pieces of fruit, nuts, and candies I have laying around, waiting for a proper binding substance.  They are almost impossible to screw up, can be mixed in one bowl in a matter of minutes, and comprise the most basic of baking ingredients you have in your pantry at all times.  Have I won you over yet??

Universal Blondie Recipe:

Makes 16 bars

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup flour (all-purpose or a mix of all-p. and whole wheat

Optional mix-ins:
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup chopped nuts
½ cup dried or frozen fruit or shredded coconut
¼ cup liquor (rum, whiskey, bourbon…)--add 1 tablespoon flour if using
½ teaspoon extracts (mint, raspberry, almond…)

Preheat the oven at 350°F.  Prepare an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with butter, cooking spray, or parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients in the order listed into one big mixing bowl, whisking together wet ingredients (butter, sugar, egg, extract(s)) first before stirring in remaining dry ingredients.  Smooth into the prepared baking pan and bake 25-30 minutes , or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool to at least room temperature before cutting.

Some of my favorite combinations:
Tropical: add diced frozen mango, shredded coconut, rum, and macadamia nuts
Minty: add peppermint extract and dark chocolate chips
Trail Mix: add almond extract, mixed dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips
Christmas: add frozen cranberries, white chocolate chips, walnuts, and bourbon

25 February 2014

Salad Night: Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad

I make so many salads for dinner, and have posted so many of those recipes, that I should have created this subheading a long time ago.  This one is perfect for a winter night: warm, toasty, and comforting, with rich flavor from the vegetables and the tahini dressing.  If you think you're too hungry for a mere salad for dinner, try this one first!

Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad

Serves 6

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup water
¼ cup orange juice
Tablespoon soy sauce
1 small head cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 medium golden beets, peeled, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled or scrubbed clean and chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 cups broccoli florets
½ cup walnut pieces

1 garlic clove, smashed with a little kosher salt
1 tablespoon tahini paste
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon grated ginger
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 425°F.  On a parchment-lined baking sheet, scatter the chopped cauliflower, beets and carrots; drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle some salt and cumin over them, and place on the bottom rack to roast for about 20-25 minutes (when the beets are soft and everything is browned to your liking, they’re done). You can also toast the walnuts in the oven at the same time, on a separate baking sheet, for 5-8 minutes or until fragrant and golden.

Meanwhile, combine the quinoa, water, orange juice, soy sauce, and a dash of salt in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy, about 20 minutes.  Steam the broccoli, ideally over the quinoa while it cooks if you have a steamer insert, or separately, until bright green and crisp-tender.

Make the dressing: whisk all ingredient together until smooth.  When all other ingredients are done, stir them together in a large serving bowl and serve with the dressing on the side.

21 February 2014

Garbanzo and Squash Stew in the pressure cooker

It's still cold, and I still don't want to eat salad for dinner.  But the creamy, cheesy comfort food I felt so nostalgic for earlier this winter is starting to make me feel like the Pillsbury Dough Girl.  So this recipe, adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall's North African Stew from River Cottage Veg, fits the bill on all accounts: it's warm, filling, and healthy.  And when done in the pressure cooker, this complex collection of flavors can be your's super fast on a weeknight. Don't skip the lemon wedge and peanuts at the end--it brings the dish to a whole 'nuther level.

Garbanzo and Squash Stew

Serves 6-8

¾ cup dried chick peas (soaked overnight)
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2- inch pieces
1/2 cup red lentils
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes in their juice
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Black pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 Goya Sazon Seasoning packet
1 cup chopped frozen spinach or collard greens
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups cooked orzo
Lemon wedges and roasted peanuts for serving

In a pressure cooker, place the chick peas, squash, lentils, tomatoes, water, and all seasons.  Affix the lid, bring up to temperature, and cook 18 minutes.  Cool under running water to release lid and stir in the greens and cilantro; cover loosely and stir occasionally, allowing to sit until greens are warmed through (you can check for seasoning at this time, too). Stir in cooked orzo and serve in bowls with peanuts and lemon wedges on the side.

18 February 2014

Sweet Potato and Adzuki Bean Stew

Adzuki beans have a nutty, slightly sweet flavor that makes them an interesting addition to many kinds of dishes.  You may know them best in their sweetened paste form, where they are used to fill sweet breads and buns for dessert on many a Chinese restaurant buffet, but I like cooking up a big pot in the pressure cooker on weekends and tossing them in various dishes throughout the week.

Sweet Potato and Adzuki Bean Stew

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups (or 1 14.5-oz can) cooked adzuki beans in their liquid
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups loosely packed collard greens, washed and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Cooked rice for serving

Heat the oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.  When it shimmers, add the onion, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft.  Add the sweet potato, paprika, cayenne, and salt to taste; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until sweet potato begins to soften, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the greens and lemon juice, replace lid, and cook until greens begin to wilt, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the adzuki beans and cilantro, taste and adjust seasoning, and heat through.  Serve over rice with rice wine vinegar, Sriracha, and/ or Thai peanut sauce (my favorite) on the side.

14 February 2014

Saucy chicken, made with love.

I have seen similar recipes to this one calling this "Roman" chicken; I experienced it as Romanian, but no matter. Romanian culture is a fascinating blend of Western and Eastern European, and they do, of course, share more than just a few letters of their name with the ancient inhabitants of Rome. This is a saucier version of a much-appreciated, home-cooked meal made by Ouana, a brilliant filmmaker and snowboarder from Bucharest, after a long afternoon of shoveling snow.

Romanian Chicken

Serves 6

4 skinless chicken breast halves, with ribs
2 skinless chicken thighs, with bones
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1 teaspoon
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon paprika. In a heavy, large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Keeping the same pan over medium heat, add the peppers and cook until the peppers have browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, and herbs. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pan, add the stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.

If serving immediately, add the capers and the parsley. Stir to combine and serve. If making ahead of time, transfer the chicken and sauce to a storage container, cool, and refrigerate. The next day, reheat the chicken to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in the capers and the parsley and serve with white rice or pasta.

11 February 2014

Nothing soothes Valentine's Day irritation like cocktails...

I have never liked Valentine's Day, not when I was single (duh), not when I was dating, and not now that I am married.  It's whiny, cloying, needy, and totally made up to trap people into looking like jerks if they don't spend enough money on arbitrary gifts like dry, dusty chocolates in heart-shaped boxes.  Do you feel stupid yet? Dump the roses and stew in hatred with me--it's fun!

Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to drink... that is definitely possible.  But you know what?  Who cares?  This week I challenge you all to celebrate your independence from Hallmark's impositions, whether you are happily in a relationship or fabulously single.  Treat yourself to a decadent, complicated cocktail every day this week and roll your eyes at your childish lemming friends.

Monday (Oops, you'll have to drink two tonight, because we missed it!)
Ex-BoyfriendToast your stupidest Ex and thank Buddha s/he's out of your life
  • 1 oz. X-Rated Fusion Liqueur 
  • 2 oz. vanilla vodka
  • 2 oz. orange Juice
  • 1 oz. pineapple Juice
  • 1 oz. cranberry Juice
Fill a Highball glass with ice. Combine liqueur, vodka, and juices in the glass and enjoy. 
Cupid’s Broken Arrow:
  • 3 oz. mango vodka
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. cranberry juice
  • splash of fresh lime juice
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Love on the Rocks: 
  • 1 ½ oz. cherry vodka
  • 4 oz. ginger ale
  • splash of grenadine
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Adios, Motherf-er:
  • ½ oz. vodka
  • ½ oz. rum
  • ½ oz. tequila
  • ½ oz. gin
  • ½ oz. blue curacao liqueur
  • 2 oz. sweet and sour mix
  • 2 oz. lemon-lime soda
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • 1 lemon slice
Pour all ingredients except soda in chilled glass filled with ice cubes. Top with soda and stir gently. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and lemon slice.

Dark Chocolate:
  • 1 ½ oz. cachaca 
  • ½ oz. Jago Cream Liqueur
  • ½ oz. Navan
  • 4 oz. hot chocolate mix
  • whipped cream
  • chocolate shavings

Mix all ingredients in a tall handled glass. Pour and thoroughly stir in the hot chocolate mixture. Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

You'd better make some strong coffee after the terrible week you've had. What were you thinking?!

Yeah, let's hear it for best friends!

07 February 2014

Pulled pork with a touch of the exotic

I'm still working on the leftover braised pork shoulder from December (I froze it in 2-cup increments), and I'm ready for some good old fashioned pulled pork sandwiches.  Or maybe not, because actually, that sauce is like a melted candy bar with tomato in it.  I mean to say that I think it's too sweet.  I hate sweet BBQ sauce.  So instead, my tomato-based sauce is going to have some Indian flair to it.

Indian-spiced Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 serrano chile, seeded and finely minced (save the other half for the turkey)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
¼ cup half and half
¼ cup raisins

Other ingredients:
2-3 cups pulled pork
chopped fresh cilantro
4-6 sandwich buns

Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper. Saute until the ginger and garlic brown a little. Add the garam masala, cumin, and paprika and saute for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce, water, and raisins. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the half and half and 2-3 cups shredded pork or 1 lb. cooked ground turkey and season with chopped fresh cilantro if desired.  Serve on buns as open or closed sandwiches.  

04 February 2014

Broiled salmon: a beginner's guide

No oceans here. 

I live in land-locked Colorado, and getting beautiful, fresh fish at the supermarket is impossible.  The seafood counter at my local Safeway sells thawed fish for the same exact price as the bagged stuff in the freezer case, and that's as good as it gets.  But I do like fish, and I'm not a snob about it being frozen, so I just go straight to the frozen section and stockpile bags of Alaskan salmon, swai, and raw shrimp for whenever I'm in the mood.  It's easy to thaw individual filets in a sinkful of water for half an hour, and the shrimp thaws even faster than that when placed in a colander under warm running water.

This Colorado selection needs some help in the flavor department, however; at best it's bland, and sometimes it's a little fishy.  None of this stuff is sushi grade. Ever.

Enter broiling.  Marinade the fish or slap a simple sauce on it, fire up the broiler, and your mediocre "wild" (I really hope it is) salmon becomes the centerpiece of a tasty little meal.  We may not be able to pull it straight out of the ocean and grill it on the beach, but we can still maintain the spirit of simplicity.

Here are some of my favorite saucy salmon broils; the Asian-y flavors go well with some jasmine rice with ginger and steamed edamame mixed in, and the mustard sauce is great with herbed roasted potatoes and a salad.

Honey-Soy Broiled Salmon


    ½ cup low sodium soy sauce
    ¼ cup honey
    1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
    1 Tbsp lemon juice
    1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
    2 cloves garlic, mince

  • in a large zip-top bag.  Mix well and reserve about 1/3 of the mixture in a small bowl, then, add salmon filets and marinade for 15-30 minutes in the refrigerator.  When ready, broil on high about 5 inches from the broiler for 6-8 minutes.  To serve, pour the remaining sauce of the filets and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish

Sriracha Salmon (also works with firm white fish)

Combine equal parts mayonnaise (I hear veganaise is amazing, actually) and Sriracha sauce and smear in a medium-thick layer over salmon filets that have been rinsed, patted dry, and lightly salted.  Broil on high about 5 inches from the broiler for 6-8 minutes.

Herbed Mustardy Salmon  (also works with firm white fish)

In a mini food-processor, combine:

2 garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
3/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

Smear in a medium-thick layer over 6 salmon filets that have been rinsed, patted dry, and lightly salted.  Broil on high about 5 inches from the broiler for 6-8 minutes.