Friday, July 3, 2020

A Fortune for You, Too

Whats cooking? Fennel Frond Pesto, Asian Peanut Sauce, and Smoked Oyster Caesar Salad





This is my new favorite from a Chinese fortune cookie. It arrived in a takeout delivery last week, and I thought it seemed perfect for sharing.

Some people tell me they think the Kitchen Goddess never serves anything but fabulous meals. Hahaha... They should ask my husband,  – but wait until I’m out of the room. We’ve been married now for 43 years. That’s 15,695 days. So, even if we count only dinners, and consider that, on average, we either went out or ordered take-out food for 2 of the 7 days of each week, that’s still somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 meals. Ok, ok – I’ll take off another 1,000 for takeout.

That number should put me solidly in the ballpark of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule for success. Phooey. I can guarantee you that quite a few of those meals were, at best, meh. A few were out and out disasters. But we persist – with enthusiasm. At worst, they make good stories.

My earliest noteworthy failure was a roast beef – in our first year of marriage. What I most remember is chewing and chewing and chewing. And deciding never to try that again. I have held to that decision.

Then there was the soup I worked on for hours before pouring the entire batch down the disposal. I recall that it had an overwhelming flavor of peanut butter, and I considered serving it anyhow, then changed my mind. That’s when I developed my mantra: If it doesn’t taste good, throw it out and order pizza.

In more recent years, there was the fried chicken I served to my gourmet group. Definitely meh, even after three rounds of experimentation. So sad. And just last week, I made The New York Times recipe from Ferran Adrià (yes, of el Bulli fame) for tortilla Española, which featured an interesting technique; but I actually tossed the leftovers after asking my prince if he wanted any more and he said, “No.” The tone wasn’t “No, thanks” or “Not tonight” or “Maybe for lunch tomorrow.” Just “No.” Now, I haven’t given up on that one, but the message from my first attempt was clear.

These are only a few I can quickly recall. I try not to dwell on them. So I encourage you, in these days when we are all – still – doing more cooking than usual, to try something new, something that sounds like fun or a great flavor. And regardless of how it turns out, don’t lose that enthusiasm.

* * *

In the spirit of trying something fun, I herewith present to you three – yes, three – recipes that I swear you can complete in 15 minutes. That’s 15 minutes each, of course, starting from when you’ve collected all the ingredients. Now, my darling hubby swears that I have no idea how long 15 minutes is. He’s probably right. But they really are fast and easy, and impressively flavorful.

So let’s just say that if you took an hour one afternoon (or at midnight, which is mostly when the KG gets inspired), you could whip these three items into shape and have the makings of several really nice dinners that can be ready quickly yet still feel special.

The first is Fennel Frond Pesto. Did you ever wonder if there was something you could do with those lacy fronds from the top of the fennel bulb? This is the answer. You know how much the Kitchen Goddess loves pesto. It’s sort of an obsession, but I can’t imagine anyone being hurt from eating too much pesto. This one in particular is delightfully herby, combining the slightly bitter flavor of the fronds and the capers that gets tempered by the mild meatiness of the olives and the creamy pecans. The lemon adds that light, bright element that just makes you want more.

I’ve used this sauce in just about as many ways as I could think of, and it works for all of them. Here's a sample:

on scrambled eggs for breakfast
thinned with a little extra oil and drizzled over asparagus or other cooked veggies
as a crudité dip for raw veggies
spread on baked salmon or whitefish.

I also gave small jars of it to two friends. One friend emailed me, raving about how wonderful it was on a dish of shrimp and pasta, and insisting on the recipe. The other returned the empty jar and told me that she’s not much of a cook but that if I make any more of this stuff, she’ll take another jar.




Fennel Frond Pesto

Inspired by Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats (seriouseats.com)

Makes 2 cups.

Ingredients
2 cups fennel fronds, loosely packed (not the thick stalks – just the feathery fronds and the very thin stalks they grow on)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup seeded olives [KG used a mix of castelvetrano and oil-cured black Italian olives]
½ cup pecan halves (or walnuts or pine nuts-- try it with whatever you have)
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
juice and zest of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon capers, drained
rounded ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons best quality olive oil


Directions
Combine all ingredients but the oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor until the ingredients form into a grainy consistency. Set the processor to run and slowly add the olive oil. Once the olive oil is incorporated, run the processor for another 10-15 seconds to achieve a relatively smooth purée.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Stores well in the fridge or the freezer.




*   *   *

I plan to try next with garnishes of crushed peanuts and matchstick cuts of cucumber.

Instant Peanut Sauce


I can’t think where I first stumbled across this, but as a huge fan of peanut butter (just not in soup), and an equally huge fan of that Asian peanut sauce, I had to make some immediately. It wasn’t a natural part of the dinner I had planned that night, but I didn’t care. And it was amazing. Like a friggin’ miracle. So there.

The sauce is not just good on noodles; it also works well as a satay sauce for skewered chicken or beef, or a dipping sauce for California rolls. And I have my eye on an Asian salad, but more on that another day.

Makes ½ cup, or enough to sauce 4 ounces of linguine pasta (or whatever kind of pasta you have in the house). But I was only cooking for 2. My new plan is to double or triple these quantities so I have some at hand when the mood strikes me. You might do the same.

Ingredients
Linguine or other long, thin pasta, or soba noodles
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons hot water
1½ teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Mirin (or rice vinegar, or cider vinegar in a pinch)*
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
¼ teaspoon powdered garlic*
Optional garnishes: crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, chives, cilantro, cucumber batons

Kitchen Goddess notes on the ingredients: 1. Mirin is a sweetened rice wine, so if you use a vinegar substitute, you may find that the mix needs a bit of sugar. My understanding is that brown sugar sweetens this dish better than white sugar. I used Mirin, because I had it. But of course. 2. You know what a purist the KG is, so this use of powdered garlic instead of fresh is an attempt to maintain the smooth texture of the sauce. If you don’t care about the texture and want a bigger garlic hit, feel free to use 1-2 small cloves of garlic, minced. 3. It is in fact easier to use 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger than the 2 teaspoons of fresh, but if you like that bite that fresh ginger delivers, you'll want the fresh. If you just want the flavor, ground ginger will be fine.

Directions
Set a pot of well salted boiling water on the stove and cook the noodles until a bit al dente.

Meanwhile, combine the peanut butter and the hot water until the mixture is smooth and consistent. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Toss with the noodles and serve with garnishes of your choice.

*   *   *


Smoked Oyster Caesar Salad

Adapted from Justin Warner, The Laws of Cooking... and How to Break Them (2015).

You may remember the Kitchen Goddess’s fascination with Justin Warner’s debut cookbook, The Laws of Cooking... and How to Break Them. This young man has an amazing imagination when it comes to food and food combinations. Many of his ideas are just downright fun. Like this take on the classic Caesar salad, which uses smoked oysters (a KG favorite) instead of anchovies, and... [wait for it] oyster crackers instead of croutons. So easy, so different, so delicious.

Serves 4, though you’ll have enough dressing and croutons for 4 more.

Ingredients
For the dressing:
2 egg yolks
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¾ cup vegetable oil (or other neutral oil like canola)
One small (3.7-ounce) can smoked oysters packed in oil

For the croutons:
2 cups oyster crackers
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

For the salad:
2 romaine hearts
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino-Romano cheese


Directions
For the dressing:
In a food processor (or a blender), pulse together the egg yolks, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic, Worcestershire and salt until thoroughly combined. With the machine running, slowly add the vegetable oil in a thin stream.

Drain the oil from the oysters, reserving 1 tablespoon of the oil for the croutons. Add the drained oysters to the dressing and pulse (blend) until smooth. Set aside.

For the croutons:
In a small skillet over medium-high heat, toss together the crackers, olive oil, black pepper, and the reserved oyster oil. Toast the crackers, tossing often, until they take on some color and start to brown. Remove the crackers to a bowl and set aside to cool.

For the presentation:
Swipe a spoonful of the dressing on each plate (to keep the lettuce from sliding around).
Lop off the base of each romaine heart, and slice the hearts in half lengthwise. Place a half face-up on the dressing, then drizzle with additional dressing. Top with croutons, additional black pepper, and a sprinkling of Pecorino-Romano, and serve.




Kitchen Goddess note: As I mentioned above, you’ll have lots of dressing from this recipe. You can either buy more romaine hearts and invite more guests, or save the rest for another dinner. Warner says the dressing is great in a potato salad, and I believe him. I like having some on hand anytime, as a dressing on other, relatively plain types of salads.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Sharpening My Wits

What’s cooking? Blistered Broccoli Pasta with Pecans, Pecorino, and Mint




I love writing – I really do. But there’s something about the pressure to come up with sparkling prose that makes me go to unusual lengths in lieu of putting my fanny in the chair and tuning up my word processing program.

Today, for instance, in preparation for writing, I have...

sterilized my sponges
removed the wax from my Christmas votives
pored through a collection of recipes to eliminate those I never really plan to make
honed my knives
invited a friend over for socially distanced coffee.

Whoa – wait a minute, you say. Let’s go back to that fourth item: honing your knives? WTF?

Yes, folks, honing my knives. One of my 2020 New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps the only one I’ve taken seriously. You should consider doing the same. After all, we still have lots of time on our hands.

This idea started with a notice that went out to “my people” – the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance – inviting the first dozen respondents to attend a knife skills class at Faraday’s Kitchen Store, a local Austin source for all things culinary. The main draw was a free Wüsthof knife as part of the class, as well as a delightful lunch prepared in the store’s test kitchen. Not surprisingly, the Kitchen Goddess didn’t waste a gnat’s breath before signing up.

The knife I chose was Wüsthof’s Classic 7" Hollow Edge Nakiri Knife. The Nakiri is a traditional vegetable knife designed for full, rhythmic chopping strokes (I’m still working on that “full, rhythmic” part) – perfect for slicing, dicing, chopping, and mincing. The KG’s favorite tasks. The square tip makes it one of the safest to use in the kitchen. The knives in this line are full tang – the blade is a single piece of steel extending the full length of the knife. I especially like the full bolster part, which is that piece of metal between the handle and the blade. It adds heft to the knife, but more importantly for me, it protects your fingers from pushing against the blade. It has a thinner blade than a traditional cleaver, and those vertical indentations along the blade create small air pockets between the blade and the food, reducing friction and drag between the knife and the food. That’s a nice touch when you’re slicing starchy vegetables like potatoes, which tend to stick to a knife’s blade.

The lead-off to the knife skills discussion/demo was a tutorial on knife care and use, which for my part was the highlight of the day. Most people don’t think about how much easier it is to cook with a really sharp knife; but the less energy you have to put into the chopping and dicing and slicing, the smoother and faster is the process. Of course, you have to be careful, because sharp knives can cut you before you even know it’s happening. But they make the job of cutting an onion, for instance, almost effortless, and with far fewer tears. Also, a dull knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp one, because the extra pressure you have to apply can cause the knife to slip and hurt you. 

So part of our lesson on knives was about learning how to use a honing steel, a piece of kitchen equipment that has baffled the Kitchen Goddess for years. But pay attention, and you, too, will want to pull out that honing steel from your knife block and set it to work.


For starters, when you use a knife, you cause the edge of the blade to become misaligned, which means it doesn’t cut properly. You have two ways to correct the problem: honing and sharpening. When you sharpen a knife, you grind down bits of the blade in order to produce a new, sharper edge. In honing, you’re just realigning the existing edge, even though the result seems to be much the same in effect. But honing will help you avoid resharpening a knife more often than you need to, which makes the knife last longer. The KG now hones hers almost once a week! Practice makes perfect.

If you’re looking for a honing steel or a knife, check out Faraday’s, Austin’s largest independent kitchenware store, with over 5500 different kitchen and cooks tools. (Such nice people, I should give them this plug.)

Then take care of your knives:

■ Wash and dry your knives ASAP after you use them.
■ Don’t put them in the dishwasher: the blade is sure to bang against other tools or dishes, dulling the knife and even damaging the blade. Also, depending on the type of knife, water and heat can damage the grip. So hand wash your knives with soap and hot water, and dry them right away (instead of air drying), to keep them from getting dull or rusty over time.
■ Don’t store your knives in such a way that they knock against other knives or tools. Some options: 
• Wall-mounted magnetic strip. Fine as long as your knives aren’t in a position to be knocked off easily.
• Wooden knife blocks. If your knife block is positioned at an angle, store the knives upside down (blades turned up), so the knife edge isn’t resting on the block.
• If a drawer is your only option, buy plastic knife guards that slip over the blades.
• If you are lucky like the Kitchen Goddess, you can use a large, shallow drawer that lets you store your knives flat. Be sure to use rubber drawer liners with an open grid, so the air can move around your knives.

One of my favorite features in my Texas kitchen. Right next to the stovetop.
 So, now that your knives are sharp, what can you do with them? This pasta dish is a snap to make – “a slam dunk,” as one reviewer put it. And if you don’t have all the same ingredients, feel free to substitute. The KG had a bounty of pecans, which she subbed for the walnuts in the original recipe. The nuts add a meaty flavor to what is an almost vegetarian dish. I say “almost” because there is the pecorino.

The key to the dish is in getting the broccoli properly seared, which involves relatively high heat and no touching. Oil in the pan, broccoli in the oil, and then leave it undisturbed. It’s the same as when you are sautéing any protein – chicken or meat or scallops – that maillard reaction between the protein and the sugars that causes the meat to get brown and crusty will do the same for the broccoli, producing a sweetness you will really enjoy.


Blistered Broccoli Pasta with Pecans, Pecorino, and Mint

Adapted from Dawn Perry in The New York Times (May 24, 2020)

In addition to the need for proper searing, the lemon squeeze at the end of the process is important. That little bit of pizzazz adds a fresh, clean taste to the food, and makes a real difference in helping the flavors reach their full potential.

Serves 4.

Ingredients
1 bunch broccoli or cauliflower (about 1 pound untrimmed)
10 ounces fusilli, farfalle or other short pasta (KG used a mix)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup pecans, chopped (can substitute walnuts or other meaty nuts)
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ¼-½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lemon, zested (about 1 teaspoon) then quartered
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 cup packed fresh mint or parsley leaves (or a combination)
Kosher salt and black pepper

I had not enough of either farfalle or fusilli, so combined them. Use what you have.

Directions
Separate the thick stem of the broccoli from the florets and peel it, then slice it into rounds ¼-inch thick. Chop the florets into pieces a bit larger than bite-sized. Set the broccoli aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (using about 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt per quart of water). Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente.

Kitchen Goddess note about timing: If you have your mise en place – ingredients chopped and measured and ready to go – you can prepare the broccoli in the same amount of time as the pasta takes to cook. The Kitchen Goddess isn’t always ready to meet this challenge, but she is dedicated to the journey.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the pecans and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes, if using), and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, until the nuts have turned golden and fragrant. Use a slotted spoon or fine-mesh skimmer spoon to remove the nuts and whatever pepper flakes you can to a small bowl. (Hint: The original writer said to remove the nuts and pepper flakes, but I found that most of the pepper flakes will stubbornly resist removal.) Season the nuts with a thin sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Add the broccoli to the skillet and toss it in the oil until the pieces are evenly coated. Use a fork or tongs to move the broccoli around in a relatively even layer so that most of the cut sides are in contact with the pan. Cover the pan and cook the broccoli, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Remove the cover and toss the broccoli to get more of the pieces – or other sides of the pieces – into contact with the pan. Cover again and cook, undisturbed, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

When the pasta has reached al dente stage, drain it (reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water), and add it to the broccoli along with just enough pasta water to keep the pasta from sticking to the skillet. Toss the broccoli and pasta with the lemon zest, grated cheese, toasted nuts and half the mint/parsley.

Divide the broccoli and pasta mix among serving bowls and sprinkle with the remaining herbs. Add more cheese and a bit of olive oil if you want. Serve with the lemon wedges and encourage guests to squeeze them over the food.

Kitchen Goddess note: In an effort to be straightforward with this recipe, the KG followed it pretty much by the book. But she yearned to add little white wine. So next time, she’ll be tossing in 2 tablespoons of white wine as the pasta was added to the broccoli. Might also pour a glass for the cook. Try it yourself. Will keep you posted...

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Celebrate Something!

What’s cooking? Black Bean/Avocado Tacos and Avocado Margaritas





Cinco de Mayo is here, and all I can think is, “Thank goodness for something to celebrate.” St. Paddy’s Day was all but lost in the confusion over who was sheltering in place and who wasn’t. We spent so much time cancelling flights and theatre tickets – I waited a full hour to speak to someone at United Airlines, and felt lucky to get them at all – that any thoughts of wearing green got mowed over by the need to wear masks. Easter came and went with online church services and only virtual hugs from my children and grandchildren, who were supposed to be hugging me in person. I didnt even get to wear my new shoes.

So now that we’ve gotten used to the new normal, and are even enjoying various aspects of it, along comes a day without much heavy lifting, unless you count the energy it takes to raise a glass. As many of you may know, the celebration honors the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. And who can object to that?

As it happens, the Kitchen Goddess has been experimenting with a couple of Mexican-ish dishes, which I’m happy to say are amazingly good, given their simplicity. And if you dont have all the ingredients today, there’s always “mañana.”


The first dish is a vegetarian taco that uses black beans as the foundation. Folks, these are not your standard issue black beans, and – miracle of miracles – they start from a can. (Even the best chefs have the occasional recipe that uses canned beans.) But it’s the treatment that produces the magic. The source is Kendra Vaculin, who is a staff writer for Epicurious, and who refers to this concoction as The Very Best Black Beans In The World (her caps, not mine, but well deserved). You use the entire can, including the liquid, and “a bit of doctoring,” as Ms. Vaculin puts it. The entire process – including any chopping and measuring – took me less than a half hour. She describes the flavor as “vaguely Cuban,” which is close to Mexico, so I dove in.

Smokey and creamy, with a tiny bit of sweetness – those beans... let me just say that I’m not sure I will ever be able to eat canned black beans any other way. I used them to make tacos for my Prince and me, then bogarted the leftovers for my lunch the next day. And I can hardly wait to make them again. I'll just put it on my list, which is somewhere...

I saw a photo of the tacos and knew I had to make some. I’ve included the ingredients, but you can use whatever you have or what you like. They can be eaten hard or soft. We had them using soft corn tortillas because, as you may remember, the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t do deep frying. (Too hot, too messy.)

The second dish I bring you today is a version of margarita I came across in... (drum roll, please) Hawaii. Go figure. My hubby and I were on the island of Kauai, in a small town called Kapa‘a, at a tiny but inspired restaurant, "jo2," where the chef-owner makes whatever he feels like each day and the waitstaff adjusts. We were served these stunningly beautiful avocado margaritas, and, of course, the KG had to have the recipe.



In the restaurant, the bartender muddles the avocado with the cilantro, but the Kitchen Goddess thought a blender would be faster. And so it was. And when you are waiting for a margarita – especially in these COVID-19 times – fast is important.

But we have to make the food first. So here you go...




The Very Best Black Beans, in Black Bean/Avocado Tacos

Adapted from Kendra Vaculin on Epicurious, April 2020

Kitchen Goddess note: As with most taco recipes, the mix and quantity of ingredients is extremely flexible. This quantity of beans should be good for a dozen tacos (3 each for 4 people). I probably used a couple of tablespoons of beans for each taco. After that, I added two slices of avocado, a tablespoon each of the corn and bell pepper (so 2 tablespoons of the mix if you combine them as I did), and shredded lettuce, salsa, and cilantro. A list of other possibilities is below.

Serves 4.

Ingredients
For the black beans:
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sofrito 
½ cup diced (¼-inch) onion (about 1 small onion or ½ medium onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup diced (¼-inch) red bell pepper (can substitute roasted red bell pepper from a jar)
1 15-ounce can black beans
½ can chicken/vegetable stock, or water plus ½ teaspoon Knorr chicken/vegetable bouillon powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

For the tacos:
corn or flour tortillas (KG thinks corn tortillas work best here, but your choice)
frozen corn, thawed (or freshly cut from cobs if you have it)
diced red bell pepper
shredded lettuce
salsa
cilantro



Other possibilities could include diced jalapeño, red onion, shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack, Pepper Jack, queso fresco, or queso blanco), lime, and/or a dollop of sour cream. A note of caution: With too many ingredients, you risk masking the flavor of the beans, which would be sad. So try not to overfill.

Directions (for the beans)
Make the sofrito (the Mexican equivalent of mirepoix), by heating the oil in a heavy, medium pot or skillet over medium heat, and adding the onion, garlic, and red bell pepper. Stir occasionally until the onion and pepper are soft, about 5-6 minutes. If the sofrito starts to brown or burn, reduce the heat. Don’t let the garlic burn.

The sofrito. Notice that I used red onion. You should use what you have -- I did.

Add the beans and any liquid from the can into the skillet. Pour in an additional ½ can of water or stock, swirling it in the actual can so as to incorporated any bean pieces left behind. If you use water, also add the bouillon powder. (If you don’t have bouillon powder or stock, don’t worry. Just add the water.)

Stir the beans and liquid into the sofrito until well combined. Add the seasoning mix (cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, and pepper), and stir well.

Bring the bean mixture to a simmer over medium heat and continue to stir often. As the mixture cooks down, which will take 10-12 minutes, use a wooden spoon or spatula or some other weapon with a broad flat bottom (the Kitchen Goddess used a Pyrex measuring cup) to mash about half of the beans, which will also thicken the mix. (It should still look plenty chunky.)




As you stir, you’ll want to make sure the mixture isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you need to lower the heat, do so slightly. When the mixture looks thick enough that you can scrape a trail across the bottom of the pan with a spoon, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the honey and vinegar, and let the mix sit for a few minutes before serving, as it will set up some as it cools.


Of course, you have to have something to wash these tacos down, so here it is.


Not quite as striking as the ones at the restaurant, but equally delicious.

Avocado Margarita

Adapted from jo2 restaurant in Kapa‘a, Hawaii

These quantities make 2 drinks, which is about all I can serve these days.

Ingredients
½ small avocado
2 tablespoons cilantro
3 ounces tequila (We used Don Julio Tequila Blanco.)
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup*
1 ounce Cointreau or other orange-based liqueur (We used Paula’s Texas Orange.)

Sugar or salt for rimming the glasses (I used a combination.)
Garnish: thin slices of avocado and small bright flowers if you have them

*Kitchen Goddess note: Simple syrup is one of those things I like to have always in the fridge. It’s indeed simple but supremely helpful for sweetening all kinds of cocktails, iced tea, iced coffee, lemonade, and other cold drinks. As a liquid sweetener, it’s much easier to blend into cold beverages than regular sugar. To make it, gently heat equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the syrup promptly once the sugar is dissolved, and store it in a sterilized jar in the fridge. Simple syrup made and stored this way will keep for at least a month.


Directions
Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend the crap out of it. While the blender is running, rim the glasses by dipping the rims in a shallow plate with about ⅛ inch of water in it. Spread the sugar/salt in another plate and when the rim has been moistened, carefully dip the rim of the glass into the sugar or salt or sugar/salt.

Add ice to the rimmed glasses and pour in your beautiful avocado margarita. Toast with “Salud, amor, y pesetas, y tiempo para gozarlos.” (“Health, love, and money, and time to enjoy them.”)


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Make Me Laugh

What’s cooking? Anything easy, and for which I already have the ingredients




Happy Easter, everyone!

Egg hunting aside, these days, I’m looking for humor anywhere. And just yesterday, I noticed something I already have in a small frame in my office. It came from The New Yorker magazine, which – on the theory that nothing is as funny as the truth –  years ago had a habit of commenting on newspaper blurbs in that sly way that got me addicted to the magazine in the first place.

From the Boston Globe, a personal ad: Portsmouth SWF, 26, seeks SWM, Catholic, must love cats, 26-30, at least 5'9". I’m loving, honest and waiting to hear from you.

The New Yorker comment: You sound nice, but your cats are too old and way too tall.

Now, this may or may not be your style of humor, but I will tell you that I laugh – or at least chuckle – every single time I read that.

Humor isn’t easy to come by these days, and after a day of perusing the newspaper – I’ve sworn off TV news – I am eager for comedy or at least light fiction. Speaking of which, I just finished reading Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl, and found it thoroughly enjoyable.

I will also confess that the Kitchen Goddess is getting a little weary of cooking. Shocking but true. I’m reminded of a young friend of mine who is a truly top-notch jazz pianist but gave it up to become an airline pilot. When I asked him why, he said, “When you have to work 24/7 on it, it takes some of the joy out of the craft.”

So it occurs to me that you, too, might be a bit weary. And you might like a few recipes that can accommodate the oddball assortment of pantry items at your house. [KG note: To reach the recipes for these dishes, click on the recipe title to link to the appropriate post.] For instance, if you have eggs, canned tuna or salmon, frozen spinach, a bit of milk and a bit of flour, you can make this Tuna (or Salmon)-Spinach Soufflé. The dry mustard and lemon rind are nice but not mandatory.



Does this Chick Pea Soup with Tomato and Rosemary pique your interest? It’s the soup I suggested making in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Seems like we are in the same “hunker down” sort of time.



And a pasta concoction I put together once, upon arriving after a long trip, to an empty fridge and no desire to grocery shop: Farfalle with Tuna, Artichoke Hearts, Spinach, and Capers.



Risotto is one of my go-to meals, because it rarely takes more than just the one dish to make the meal, with some fresh fruit on the side. And my grocery store always has butternut squash. If you can get containers of it already cut up, all the better. If you don’t have arborio rice (what?!), use long-grain rice. The texture won’t be quite as creamy as with arborio, but you won’t have to make a trip to the store. So here’s Butternut Squash Risotto:



Finally, for dessert, this one is de-vine (as we say in the South) and will serve several people for a couple of days, or just the two of you for even longer. Strawberry Bavarian Cream: frozen strawberries (or any frozen berries), cream, gelatin, eggs, sugar, and milk – in a blender, so almost no work at all.



I hope at least one of these looks good to you, and that you are being careful and staying safe. And I hope you are finding little bits of humor to lighten the load.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Starry, Starry Nights

What’s cooking? Chocolate Star Cookies with Pistachio Stardust



 

Generally speaking, winter is that time of year when we’re mostly waiting for it to be over. But if you think about it, there are lots of things winter is great for. When else would you get to wear those soft, warm sweaters? Or a fur coat, if you have one? As long as it doesn’t go on for too long, clomping around in fuzzy boots and mittens is fun, as is the snow. And I wouldn’t be the Kitchen Goddess if I didn’t mention thick soups and stews, like this Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup, or Coq au Vin.

Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Coq au Vin
 It’s also the season for mushrooms, as in this Wild Mushroom Soup with Madeira. Mmmmm...

Wild Mushroom Soup – for two – with Madiera

You know what’s also great in winter? The stars. That’s right – the night sky in December, January, and February is darker and clearer than in the summer. The major reason is that cold air can’t hold as much moisture as can warm air, so the winter skies offer a drier, crisper light, while summer skies – beautiful though they may be – come across as hazier. Winter night skies (in the Northern Hemisphere) allow a richer, deeper, and darker shade of blue that only sharpens the contrast with the wintertime constellations.

And here’s one I didn’t know before I did all this research: our view of the night sky improves in winter because of our solar system’s position in the Milky Way. In summer, we’re facing the center of the galaxy, toward the combined light of billions of stars, so the sky is more crowded. In winter, we face the opposite way, toward the galaxy’s outskirts. There are fewer stars between us and extragalactic space. It’s another morsel of knowledge from the KG.

With all this thinking about stars, I was thrilled to receive a recipe for star cookies from a friend in Florida. She’s a terrific cook and an ultra-talented designer (see her website at Fina Design), so I was intrigued with these cookies mostly because they were so beautiful in her photo. Mine didn’t emerge with the same level of beauty, but they looked good enough to wow my book group, and the taste is outstanding – rich without being cloying. Who doesn’t like chocolate dipped in more chocolate and pistachios?

I cannot tell a lie: these cookies  and the photo  were made by my friend Barbara. 

Because there’s no egg in the recipe, the cookies have a shortbready texture – not fudgy, but soft and crumbly. Until they cool from the oven, they need to be handled carefully – like with as wide a spatula as you have for moving them from the baking pan to the cooling rack. The Kitchen Goddess broke three until she figured that part out, and then had to eat those that broke. Bad news for the book group, good news for the KG.



Kitchen Goddess note on cocoa powder: (And here I rely on the expertise of Stella Parks, the pastry queen at SeriousEats.com, and my friends at America’s Test Kitchen.) For big chocolate flavor in baking, the weapon of choice is usually cocoa powder, which comes in two forms: Dutch-processed and natural. Both are derived from the cocoa bean. Like chocolate, cocoa is naturally acidic. In Dutch processing, the cocoa is treated with an alkalizing agent that neutralizes that acid. So Dutch-processed cocoa is darker and browner in color, and has a smoother chocolate flavor. Because of the lack of acidity, most recipes using it call for baking powder only.

The color difference is starker when viewed from above
Unsweetened Natural Cocoa is reddish brown in color, and has a chocolate flavor characterized by some as bitter, by others as sharp and almost citrusy. Many recipes using it call for baking soda to help neutralize its acidity.











You’ll notice that Barbara’s cookies are a lighter shade than mine, which I attribute mostly to the type of cocoa powder. Hers, on the right in this photo, is Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened Cocoa, which is natural; mine, on the left, is Hershey’s Special Dark, which, according to the label, is a combination of Dutched and natural cocoa.  Both hers and mine are delicious and chocolatey, and impressively easy to make.

I’m still working on the technique for getting mine to be as perfect a star shape as Barbara’s. Very frustrating for a Kitchen Goddess. But if you follow the intermittent chilling instructions and don’t crowd the baking pan, you’ll come very close.


These are the Kitchen Goddess’s, before she realized the cookies look even better when thicker.

Chocolate Star Cookies with Pistachio Stardust

Adapted from my friend Barbara Fina

The flavors in these cookies are simple and straightforward, so it’s good to use the best quality ingredients you can find.

Yield: This recipe makes 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients
For the cookies:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
175 grams all-purpose flour (approximately 1⅓ cups)
½ teaspoon baking powder or baking soda, depending on the type of cocoa you choose*
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

*Note: If your cocoa powder is “natural” (i.e., not Dutch-processed), use baking soda; if your cocoa powder is Dutch-processed, use baking powder.

For the pistachio stardust:
1¼ cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate pieces
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup shelled, unsalted whole pistachios

Directions
In the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed, use the paddle to cream the ½ cup butter with the brown sugar and salt until the mixture is smooth, then raise the speed to medium for a good 30 seconds to aerate.

In a small bowl, sift or stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda (or baking powder, depending on your type of cocoa). Set aside. Separately, combine the milk and vanilla.

To the butter/brown sugar/salt mixture, gradually and alternately add the milk/vanilla and the dry ingredients. Mix until the dough is a smooth and consistent texture, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl occasionally.

Divide the dough into two relatively smooth balls and flatten them slightly for easier rolling out. Wrap the two disks in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for 30-60 minutes. (The Kitchen Goddess absent-mindedly left hers in the fridge for 2 hours and was very sorry.)

Before you start rolling/cutting, preheat the oven to 375º.

On a lightly floured surface, working with one disk of dough at a time, roll out the dough to a ¼-inch thickness and cut into stars with a cookie cutter. (The KG uses a 3-inch star.) Transfer the stars to a parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet, being careful to leave them 1-2 inches apart for best results. Refrigerate each sheet for 5 minutes before baking. Re-roll unused dough as many times as you like, refrigerating occasionally to keep the dough firm. Note that these cookies are thick. It’s part of their charm.

Bake 7-8 minutes or until edges are firm. KG Alert: Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before moving them to a wire rack. Cool on wire racks completely before dipping.

While the finished cookies are cooling, prepare the Pistachio Stardust:

1. In a double boiler, combine the chocolate pieces and the butter. Stir until smooth.

2. Before you turn off the oven, scatter the pistachios into a small baking pan and lightly toast (4-5 minutes). Use a cutting board to chop the pistachios into a relatively fine texture (or however fine you like). While somewhat tedious, chopping nuts by hand will give you a more consistent texture. (Barbara says it also looks more “artisinal.” And, of course, she’s right.)

Once the cookies are cooled, dip two points of each star into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off, then into the pistachio bits. Return the decorated cookies to the cooling racks until the chocolate is completely firm.

These cookies keep well for up to 10 days in airtight tins. (Separate the layers with wax paper.) You can also freeze the undipped cookies, then thaw and dip them when you’re ready.

One final Kitchen Goddess note: While I do think the star shapes are about the cleverest and most artistic I’ve seen, do not despair if you don’t have a star-shaped cookie cutter. You can always make these any shape you want and dip some portion of each into the chocolate/pistachio mix.

Kitchen Goddess Bonus Recipe: Chocolate Bark

When you have finished dipping all those stars, you’ll find that you have both chocolate and pistachios left over. What can you do? Make bark. Spread the chocolate out in a pan lined with parchment or foil and sprinkle the nuts on top. Add other nuts or dried fruit or (KG’s fave) candied ginger, and let it cool. Break it up and store it in an airtight container. Serve on its own or with ice cream/sorbet for dessert.


A Final Note about Star-gazing


If you want a truly eye-opening experience, head to one of the Dark Sky spots in the U.S. These are places far enough from city/highway lighting that the nighttime conditions are essentially the same as they were before the introduction of electric lighting. As your eyes become accustomed to the dark, you’ll be blown away at the number of stars you can see. The Milky Way appears as if by magic, and the universe literally opens up to you.

The brightness of a full moon can wash most stars out of the sky. For most stargazing, you’ll want to plan to be out on or near the new moon, which for this month, began the 21st and runs through the 29th, at which time the visible percentage of the moon will be less than 20%.

And you can make some of these cookies for the trip!


Friday, November 22, 2019

On the Light Side -- Marathon Day 3

What’s cooking? Ginger- and Molasses-Glazed Root Vegetables, Fennel-Celery Salad with Lemon and Parmesan





I’ve done it! I’ve made time to give you all four recipes in just less than a week before Turkey Day. I should have a glass of wine. Maybe even two. But first, let’s get on with the reason you clicked in here.

Today’s recipes may seem wildly different, but they have one major factor in common: the mandoline.

Ordinarily, the Kitchen Goddess understands that not everyone has a complete inventory of cooking utensils/equipment. The KG herself has no rice cooker, no sous vide immersion circulator, no air fryer, no instant pot, no slow cooker. Not even a toaster oven. But she has a mandoline slicer.

Both of these recipes are a snap with a mandoline slicer. And this is not the first time I’ve suggested getting one, so.... On the other hand, both recipes can be made the day before you’ll be serving them, which goes a long way toward making the dishes attractive even without any special equipment.

A mandoline is not a machine. It’s a cooking utensil used for slicing. The fancier ones also make julienne cuts, but let’s just stick to our knitting today. According to wikipedia, the name mandoline derives from the back-and-forth wrist motion of the user, which mimics the motion of someone playing the musical instrument of the same name (though the instrument is spelled mandolin, while the utensil is spelled mandoline). How clever is that?

With a mandoline, you can slice fruits and veggies faster than even a skilled chef with a knife. Which will improve both the look and the cooking of your foods in the sense that even cuts produce even doneness. As my CIA chef teacher told the class, “looks the same, cooks the same.”

Ideally, you want a mandoline that’s both easy and safe to use. The blades are sharp and you can wound yourself without even noticing – until the blood starts showing up on the food. I have more than once sliced into a fingernail, and even managed one time to remove the tip of a finger. That was exciting.

Through exhaustive testing, the America’s Test Kitchen crew has pronounced the Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline 5 Piece Set ($49.95 at amazon.com) as the easiest and safest to use. Also, they liked the Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Adjustable Mandoline Vegetable Slicer w/ Handguard ($17.82). The one I use is a Benriner, which though cheaper and easy to use, is not nearly as safe, as you can tell from my history with it. So I’m thinking maybe the Swissmar should be on my Christmas list.

Once you have a mandoline or decide to just plow ahead with a knife, these two dishes are easy and can be made a day ahead (yes, even the salad!).



Ginger- and Molasses-Glazed Root Vegetables

Adapted from David McCann in Food & Wine Magazine

Root veggies – some people don’t even recognize the names, like rutabaga or parsnips or celery root. So I recommend not telling your guests what’s in this dish. After all, once you say, “turnips,” people get that look on their faces and you can just tell they won’t even try it. Just say, “root veggies” when they ask, and move on to the ginger-molasses part. It would be a real loss not to try this.

Serves: 8

Ingredients
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into ⅛-inch-thick coins
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut diagonally into ⅛-inch-thick coins
1 pound medium-sized turnips, peeled, halved, and cut into ⅛-inch-thick rounds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 ounces), cut into pieces, divided
2 teaspoons grated garlic
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (such as Grandma’s Molasses)
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: fresh flat-leaf parsley (whole leaves or chopped)

Directions
Kitchen Goddess note: In my usual way, I could not leave well enough alone. The directions below for the blanching made me go searching for the best method, and I came upon instructions from the great chef, Thomas Keller. Because of the density of root veggies, he says to start them in the pot with cold, lightly salted water ( I used ½ cup salt to 6 quarts water), bring the water to a boil, and remove the veggies when they taste done. I tried this with only carrots, and was happy with the taste/texture after they had boiled 1½ minutes. But I used the original instructions (below) when I made this dish, and was happy then, too. Your call.

Just be sure to have a really cold ice bath – equal amounts of ice to water. Once the veggies are done, you want to have the cooking stop as quickly as possible.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil over high. Set a large bowl of very cold ice water to the side. Add the carrots and parsnips to the boiling water. After 3 minutes, add the turnips, and continue the boiling for another 2 minutes. As you reach that 2-minute mark, test to see that the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Turn off the heat and, using a slotted spoon or a spider, immediately transfer all the veggies to the ice bath. Let them sit in the ice bath for 2 minutes, then drain. Lay a kitchen towel out on a baking sheet and top it with a couple of layers of paper towels. Spread the veggies out on the paper towels. In the interest of getting them as dry as possible, I made several layers of the veggies, separated by more paper towels.




When you are about ready to serve, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until it sizzles. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add the vegetables, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the molasses, 2 tablespoons water, and salt/pepper. Cook, folding the vegetables gently into the glaze in order to cover them completely. Stir continuously until the vegetables are fully glazed, 3-4 minutes.


Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the veggies to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

Kitchen Goddess P.S. –
What you can do ahead: 
Carrots, parsnips, and turnips may be blanched 1 day ahead.

* * *

Fennel and Celery Salad with Lemon and Parmesan

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

The most wonderful thing about this salad – aside from the fresh, zippy taste, is that it was as crunchy and flavorful on the second day as it was on the first. I can hardly wait to make it again. Next time, I may consider adding julienned (matchstick) pieces of crisp, green pear.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus zest from one large lemon
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
Kosher salt and black pepper (start with ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
2 medium fennel bulbs (tops removed, fronds reserved), sliced 1/16th-inch thick (about 2 cups)
1 or 2 celery hearts, including pale ribs and leaves, sliced 1/16th-inch thick (about 2 cups)
8-10 radishes, trimmed and sliced ⅛-inch thick
¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 2 ounces), for serving
Garnish: reserved fennel fronds




Directions
For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, zest, and garlic in a small jar. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil and shake well. Set the dressing aside for at least 10 minutes.

In a salad bowl, toss together the fennel, celery, radish slices, and parsley.

Discard the garlic from the dressing, and shake the dressing again. Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss gently but well. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve in the salad bowl or transfer the salad to a platter. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Parmesan generously over the salad. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds (optional, but they do look pretty!).

Kitchen Goddess P.S. – 
What you can do ahead: 
1. Make the dressing.
2. Slice the fennel, celery, and radishes. (Wait until you’re ready to serve before chopping the parsley.) Keep the celery and radish slices in an airtight container in the fridge. Wrap the fennel slices and fennel fronds in damp paper towels and store overnight in an airtight container.




The Kitchen Goddess wishes you all a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude for our many blessings!