Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Something Old, Something New, Something Turkey

 What’s cooking? Turkey Sliders with Cranberry Sauce

In a world where many of us will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for two, it seemed unnecessarily drudge-y to make myself perform the turkey ritual just for the sake of tradition. Nothing else about this holiday has been traditional, and the Kitchen Goddess needed a challenge to her ingenuity.

We had a similar moment when, a few years ago, my son and his wife and their children were arriving the day after Thanksgiving. Not wishing to mess the house up, I served us a version of a Cuban sandwich, using turkey instead of roast pork. It was quite good and had the right amount of ease in the assembly as well as the clean-up. But it lacked imagination... inspiration... fun. So this week, I thought about turkey meatloaf, a roast turkey breast, turkey soup,... nah.

I got excited when I read in The New York Times about a place in NYC that was selling confit turkey legs – cured, then slow cooked in duck fat – and all you have to do is reheat them. Taste buds salivating, I called the store, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats at Chelsea Market. Yes, they ship them, ...but they were sold out. Apparently, I was not the only NY Times reader to see confit turkey legs as a great idea.

Finally, my brain barked, and I thought about turkey sliders. A bit of research determined that I was not the first to imagine such a treat, so I had several thoughtful presentations to consider. I most liked the one that suggested basting the burgers with cranberry sauce. And in lieu of the canned cranberry sauce suggested by Valerie Bertinelli, of all people, I knew I could make the Kitchen Goddess’s famous Cranberry Sauce with Pinot Noir. OMG -- the smells wafting from the kitchen will be enough to drive you mad.

On its own, turkey is a relatively tasteless bird, so I figured I’d goose up the savory aspect of the burgers to balance the sweetness of the cranberry sauce. I sautéed some shallots in a tiny amount of olive oil and stirred dried thyme into the shallots while they were still warm. A little ground ginger for sharpness, some garlic powder because... well, garlic. And for the pièce de résistance, a dash of fennel pollen. Oh, my. The basting kept them from drying out, and the arugula in the sandwich itself makes a real difference. I started with fresh spinach, which was quite good, but the pepperiness of the arugula really adds to the final product.

I’ll be serving mine with sweet potato fries and cole slaw, and we’ll finish the meal with Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, of course. A few traditions are really important.

Kitchen Goddess note about panko: You may already be familiar with panko breadcrumbs, which are a staple of Japanese cuisine (think tempura). These breadcrumbs are made from a crustless white bread which is processed into flakes and then dried. They have a dryer and flakier consistency than regular breadcrumbs, and as a result they absorb less oil.

Turkey Sliders with Cranberry Sauce

Makes 8 sliders.

½ cup panko breadcrumbs (or regular breadcrumbs, if that’s what you have)
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped shallots (no more than ¼-inch dice)
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound ground turkey (light/dark mix is more flavorful, IMHO)
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley (leaves only)
¼ teaspoon (rounded) ground ginger
¼ teaspoon (rounded) garlic powder
¼ teaspoon (rounded) fennel pollen (use ground fennel seeds if no pollen, but you really should get             some fennel pollen)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
PAM cooking oil spray (or a teaspoon of oil) for the pan
⅔ cup cranberry sauce (canned or homemade – try KG’s Cranberry         Sauce with Pinot Noir)
8 slider buns (I bought Pepperidge Farm)
Arugula (you’ll need at least 2 cups – it’s worth piling on)


Preheat the oven to 450º.

In a small bowl, mix the panko with the half-and-half until the liquid is evenly spread among the breadcrumbs. Set aside.

In a small skillet (non-stick is ok), heat the oil over medium-low, and stir in the shallots. Sauté, stirring often so the shallots don’t burn, for 8-9 minutes, until the shallots turn soft and transparent. Remove from the heat and stir in the thyme for about 30 seconds, to warm the herb. Let the mix rest for a few minutes to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the turkey, the panko/half-and-half, the shallots/thyme, and the parsley, ginger, garlic powder, fennel pollen (if using), and the salt/pepper. Using your hands, mix the ingredients just enough to get an even distribution of everything without overmixing. As with any ground meat, overhandling the meat will compact it and make your burgers tough.

Divide the mixture into 8 portions, and form into patties 2½-3 inches wide (which is almost exactly the width of the buns). Arrange the patties in a lightly oiled quarter-sheet pan (9x13 inches), and bake 5 minutes. The Kitchen Goddess lines her pan with baker’s parchment and sprays that with oil, and even that didn’t stop the cranberry liquid from running around and making a burnt sugar mess. But we must suffer for art.

Meanwhile, heat the cranberry sauce just enough to get it loose. Then, after that first 5 minutes of baking, remove the pan from the oven and ladle a couple of spoonfuls of the warm sauce over each burger. Return the pan to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes more. If you test with a meat thermometer, the center of the patties should be at least 165º.

Remove the pan from the oven and flip the patties. Spoon a little more warm sauce on them while they’re hot. Let them sit in the pan – not in the oven – for another 5 minutes, when they’ll be ready to serve.

I like to toast the buns, which takes less than a minute in a hot oven, but it’s not necessary. Pile a small bunch of arugula on the bottom of the bun, and top it with a burger. (The greens on bottom is a technique I got from one of my many foodie podcasts. The theory is that the greens keep the bread from getting soggy.) Spoon on some cranberry sauce (get some of those nice fat berries into the act), and add the top of the bun. Serving them warm is lovely, but I had one of my leftovers straight from the fridge for lunch today and it was still good. Mmmm...

We had the test batch with spinach, but the one I had today with arugula was much improved.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Despite the many traumas of the year, we have made it this far and for that we can be extremely grateful.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Still Thankful

What’s cooking? Side Dishes for Two

Last year, in my traditional marathon of sides for Thanksgiving, I made so many veggies that I had to invite all my friends over to help eat them. That won’t be happening this year. In fact, a lot won’t be happening this year, but we still have many things to be thankful for. Frankly, one of those, for me, is that I don’t have to cook a turkey.

I cooked a turkey last year, and it was terrific. In usual fashion, the Kitchen Goddess took over – starting with spatchcocking the bird. (In which you split open the carcass along the backbone, allowing you to flatten it for more even cooking.) A dry brine for a couple of days, followed by a day without any covering in the fridge, followed by an herb butter that she shoved under the skin of the damn thing. It was an exhausting procedure, which produced an excellent turkey, flavorful and all parts cooked to the right doneness. A triumph, in fact, but it left the KG in... well, a foul mood, if you’ll pardon the pun, and a desire to sleep for a couple of days straight.

This year, my hubby and I are left to ourselves. We’ve got friends coming over for dessert on the porch, but the main meal will be a duet. One son let me know that his girlfriend is researching recipes that are specifically for two. So I thought I’d help out.

Recognizing that many of you will also be doing a Thanksgiving duet, I’ve waded through the past 6-7 years of my “sides marathons,” looking for the ones that – while still tasty – can be easily ramped down to serve 2 or 4. (If you click on the name of each dish, it will link you to the relevant post.)

I start with one potato dish:

Crushed Potatoes with Spiced Oil – notable for the excellent and unusual texture and the speed of the whole process.

More than any other type of dish, salads are easily scalable, up or down. Here are two I really like, and they're both festive:

Fennel-Celery Salad with Lemon and Parmesan – light, fresh, and so lovely I think it belongs on my own table next week. But this year, I’ll take my advice (check the recipe) and add matchstick pieces of pear.

Mâche, Watercress, and Endive Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette – another gorgeous salad, with more traditional ingredients. This time of year is good for watercress, and if you can’t find mâche, just throw a little more watercress in. Don’t forget the pomegranate seeds – I found gorgeous pomegranates at my grocer this week, and the seeds are perfect for a dash of color.

Two yellow/orange veggie dishes – this is starting to remind me of the 12 Days of Christmas...:

Butternut Squash with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms  – The recipe says it serves 6, but it’s easily halved, and if you have a little left over,... sounds like lunch the next day.

Smashed Carrots with Feta and Mint  – You won’t want to have both the crushed potatoes and the smashed carrots, or your family/friends will think you have a lot of pent-up hostility. Even if you do, it’s better to have more varieties of texture on the plate. But if you aren’t interested in the crushed potatoes, check this out. One of my hubby’s faves.

Two green veggies...

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Leeks – fun to say, easy, easy, easy to make; and the frizzled leeks add a nice bit of sweetness to the dish.

Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms – a classic, dressed up with umami-laden mushrooms, which are in high season.

And a partridge in a no, no, no – a Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. You can’t really make this just for two, but I’ll be layering it in balloon wine glasses for easier, safer serving, and, as I mentioned, sharing it with another couple who’ll be joining us for dessert. I’m also gifting a neighbor with a couple of servings, which leaves the last two for us on Black Friday. This pie is nothing less than amazing, and never fails to please. And I’ll be updating the recipe – with any luck – this weekend. After reading the original post, which was an early one for this blog, I realized that the instructions could be considerably more helpful.

I really need to get a photo of a piece of the pie with whipped cream on it, sprinkled with bits of candied ginger... some day soon.

And now, you may be wondering what the Kitchen Goddess and her prince will be having. Well, ... [drum roll] turkey sliders with cranberry sauce condiment. Using ground turkey. I’ll be testing them this weekend and will let you know on Monday how they turn out.

Stay safe and keep cooking!


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Hahahahaha! – In Case You’ve Forgotten How

What’s Cooking? Pasta with Clams – Two Ways

Today’s image is from a Shannon Martin greeting card, the full and hilarious collection of which –
 including note pads, luggage tags, and cocktail napkins – can be found at this website. 

Are you tired of worrying or obsessing about the election – from either side? The other night, after watching another episode of Jeopardy and contemplating our choices of the various series we’ve followed, my sweet husband said, “I’d just like to watch something light. Without a murder.”

As we browsed our collection of Roku channels for a movie, I spotted Moneyball. Which, even though we’ve both seen it, seemed just right: no one dies, there’s no violence (unless it’s when Billy Beane throws a chair through a window), a few players get traded, the divorce in it seems amicable, and the story is true and actually interesting. About halfway through it, my mate said, “You know, I’d forgotten how much fun this one is.”

I think we’re all in need of a break – from Covid-19 news, election news, climate change news, Supreme Court news, .... As an antidote to reality, since March, the Sunday New York Times has been running a section called At Home, with puzzles, craft ideas (mostly for making things out of newsprint), recipes, and thoughts of what to do each week to take your mind off whatever. This past week, that included an essay on the health benefits from laughter.

The article quotes Dr. Michael Miller, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, who says that laughter causes the body to release nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, and decreases clotting. Other salient research notes that laughter improves short-term memory – as well as the capacity to learn – in older adults; it reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and increases life-affirming endorphins. Most relevant today, it helps people stay resilient in the face of troubling circumstances.

Also, if you laugh more, the “mirror neurons” in the brains of those around you kick in and they will also laugh. A win-win – improving your environment and your health at the same time.

If you’re having a hard time getting started, here are a few suggestions:

■ Watch the 1963 original production of The Pink Panther (streaming on Max Go, Cinemax Amazon Channel, DIRECTV);
■ Read A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson;
■ Call your 6-year-old grandson and have him tell you his latest knock-knock jokes.

* * *

Now that you’re at least smiling, here are a couple of fast and nutritious paths to a delicious pasta dinner with canned clams and without a lot of work. I see that look -- keep reading.

One of my mother’s specialties – and there weren’t too many – was what our family always referred to as Clam Spaghetti. It seemed exotic – probably because clams aren’t much of a Southern dish, and in those days, fresh clams were generally NOT something you could get at your grocery store. And even though you can now find them at many grocery stores and fish markets, buy them only if you know you’ll be cooking them by tomorrow.

What if you just decided that’s what you want for dinner? Maybe you’re just looking for something fast yet not fast food. Try the canned version. After a bit of research (the KG’s fave activity), I’ve learned that:

■ The canning process cooks the clams, so all you really have to do is heat them.
■ Like tuna, canned clams keep forever – ok, maybe not forever, but my sources say 3-5 years is the general guideline, and even longer if the can hasn’t been damaged.
■ They’re impressively cheap – in a cursory survey online, I found whole clams at 21 cents/ounce, and chopped clams for 26 cents/ounce.
■ Also like tuna, canned clams are a terrific source of lean protein, rich in vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids. They promote sexual health (!); and have been found to have cancer-preventing properties. So... no cancer and lots of sex -- what’s not to like?

My mother kept cans of chopped clams in her pantry, and that’s what I’ve used for years. But in shopping for these recipes, the Kitchen Goddess found canned whole baby clams, which she likes a bit more for the texture. And let us be honest -- anything with the word “fancy” on the label is a draw for her.

What you’re getting in the can are generally Atlantic surf clams – sweet in flavor and with a firm texture, and you can find chopped clams in almost any grocery store. Look for products from the U.S. Tinned whole clams are brinier and more delicate than chopped clams, so salt your dishes accordingly. Apparently, you can also find jarred whole tiny clams from Italy, but they have thus far eluded the KG. 

The original authors of the two recipes that follow both claim to need less than a half hour. But remember: they have minions. The KG needs a good 10-15 minutes just to get the garlic peeled and chopped. Nevertheless, both dishes can be accomplished in an amazingly short time, including the search through your pantry. And they’re both well worth the effort. Just add a salad and some garlic bread.

Kitchen Goddess note on the ingredients: (1) Both of these recipes called for 1 pound of pasta in the original version, but the Goddess thinks that’s way too much pasta, so she has scaled back both recipes to 12 ounces. You, of course, are free to use as much as you like. (2) And both original recipes called for red pepper flakes (a.k.a, crushed red pepper). As frequent readers will know, the KG much prefers Aleppo pepper for its more complex flavor profile. It’s not as hot as red pepper flakes, but you can always add more, or even add red pepper flakes; and in the meantime, you will have a huge difference in flavor. The KG has purchased Aleppo pepper from Burma Spice and Penzey’s, and there are lots of other places. Bon Appetít calls it “about half as hot as ...crushed red chile flakes... and easily twice as flavorful. Like salt, Aleppo-style pepper is a flavor enhancer. It marries slow-building heat with earthy, cumin-y undertones and a little hit of fruity tang..., with a super-savory finish reminiscent of sun-dried tomatoes.” The Kitchen Goddess has been at the forefront of this wave and hopes you will all jump on so she can stop explaining it.

Spicy Clam Pasta With Bacon, Peas and Basil

Adapted from David Tanis in The New York Times

Who doesn’t like bacon or pesto? So bacon and pesto are bellissimo together. And the peas? Why not?

Serves 4.

1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed, plus some pretty ones reserved for garnish
1 cup Italian parsley leaves, loosely packed
2 small garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces (6-8 slices) bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces [KG note: Even better, if you have thick-cut bacon, slice it into lardons, which are ¼-inch pieces]
2 (10-ounce) cans baby clams, drained
½ -1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or for more heat, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
12 ounces spaghetti
Lemon wedges

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the basil, parsley and garlic together to a grainy consistency. Wipe down the sides of the bowl and add ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 8-10 grinds of black pepper, and ¼ cup oil. Process until you have a bright green purée.

Start the pasta water with about 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons kosher salt. [Another KG note: No iodized table salt, please – it gives the pasta a bitter taste. If you use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, use the 2 tablespoons noted above; if you have Morton Kosher salt, use only 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon. Why? Because Diamond salt is flaky, irregular crystals, while Morton’s is round and pebbly, so is saltier by volume. Isnt knowledge wonderful?]

Cook the bacon without extra fat in a high-sided skillet over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until browned and crisp but not hard. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour off all but 1-2 teaspoons of the fat – just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes). Cook for about a minute to let the Aleppo pepper bloom, then add the clams and the peas for another 30-45 seconds, stirring and coating the clams well with the flavored oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then turn off the heat and, if the pasta is not yet al dente, cover the pan with a lid.

I added the clams before the peas -- this time. Next time, will add them together.

Boil the pasta until slightly underdone (al dente), then drain it and add it to the pan with the clam sauce. Turn on the heat to medium-high and stir all together. Add 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water, if the dish seems dry. Stir in the basil-parsley purée and toss well. 

Serve topped with the bacon and the reserved basil leaves. Include lemon wedges.

* * *

Linguine with Lemon-Butter Clam Sauce

Adapted from Colu Henry in The New York Times

Fast in the making, also light and flavorful. Lemon and butter are a classic combo.

Serves 4.

Kosher salt
12 ounces linguine or other long pasta, such as spaghetti or capellini
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving (optional)
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine [KG much prefers vermouth]
2 (10-ounce) cans whole baby clams, drained*
10-12 ounces clam juice*
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
lemon zest (from 1 to 2 lemons – okay, more like 2 lemons)
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
Lemon wedges, for serving

*A 10-ounce can of clams contains 4 ounces of clams and 6 ounces of brine. If you have no clam juice, you can use the can’s contents without draining, but the Kitchen Goddess – no surprise here – prefers to use clam juice, which contains actual clam broth, for a richer flavor you can’t get with just the brine. The most widely recommended brand is from Bar Harbor. And yes, the bottles are 8 ounces, so you’ll have half a bottle left, but you can add it to any other seafood dish or a Bloody Mary (bonus!). Or freeze it for as long as you want.

The author of this recipe says “While the pasta cooks, make your sauce.” That's so you know how fast/easy it is to do. But the Kitchen Goddess’s blood pressure goes up just thinking about having to get the sauce done before the pasta finishes cooking. If you haven’t got everything for the sauce ready to go, at least get the water to a low simmer and add the pasta when the sauce is ready.

Bring a large pot (4 quarts) of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until not quite al dente (about 2 minutes short – it will finish cooking in the sauce). Reserve ½ cup pasta water, then drain the pasta.

For the sauce, heat the oil in a deep-sided 12-inch skillet over medium. Add the garlic, Aleppo pepper (or red-pepper flakes), and oregano, and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic turns pale golden. Add the vermouth/wine and clam juice and simmer until reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. The sauce will be slightly syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in the clams (they’ll also get heated by the pasta). Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

You can tell the sauce is syrupy when you can draw a line across the bottom of the pan
 and it stays open for a few seconds.

Add the butter and lemon zest to the skillet, stirring until the butter is melted, then add the pasta into the skillet as well. Toss the pasta in the skillet until it is glossy with sauce. If needed, add ¼ cup reserved pasta water. Stir in half the parsley.

Serve pasta topped with a thin drizzle of olive oil (I found this unnecessary, but the recipe author included it, so I offer it as optional), and the remaining parsley. Serve lemon wedges along side or at the table.



Monday, October 12, 2020

Who Knew Grocery Shopping Could Be Such an Ordeal?

 What’s cooking? Skillet Meatballs with Nectarines and Basil

My first time ordering after the “shelter in place” advisory, I used a service called Favor. It’s online, and once you enter your grocery list, they send an eager young person to the store with it, and the packages get delivered to your house. Because we were all in a fog about the virus and how you could catch it, I was so grateful for the service that the first couple of times, I tipped the young person $20 for a $30 order. Within a couple of weeks, though, the young people got a little less eager and the quality of the delivery started slipping – once, the eager young person actually decided he/she wasn’t interested in my order and I had to start over. When they did deliver, I’d get some of what I ordered, and sometimes an off-brand of what I ordered. You can imagine that when the Kitchen Goddess requests a brand, she expects to get that brand.

I tried going (masked) into the store, at “senior” hours, but the proximity to other people made me so anxious that the minute I walked back into the house, I’d have to take off all my clothes and put everything into the laundry. And shower and take a nap, followed by wiping down every item I bought. The process took pretty much the full day.

So I switched to a curbside pickup that my usual store offers, and even now, I am very grateful for that option. But – not surprisingly – the store likes to sell their house brands more than anything else, and I notice that they’ve gradually shifted the online offerings to skew in that direction. I know they have that other stuff – my beloved national brands – because I’ve purchased them in that store pre-Covid.

But I stuck with it until they started bagging things according to where they came from around the store: dairy, one bag; cookies/chips, one bag; cleaning supplies, one bag. And on and on. One curbside delivery I got had 36 items and they used 14 plastic bags! No matter how hard I try, I can’t get them to use paper and bag more efficiently.

Then one day, the Kitchen Goddess admitted to herself that she yearned – actually yearned – to touch the fruits and veggies she was buying. And it turns out that if you wear a mask and shop at off hours and are careful about the way you move around the stores, it’s not nearly as stressful as it once was. Of course, we’re still wiping down the packaged goods and rinsing the fruits (except the berries) in soapy water, but we’re happy to pay that price for safety. It’s a learning curve.

*  *  *

Even with all this shopping anxiety – and yes, the KG is still having shopping anxiety – I’ve been thinking more about what’s seasonal in this transition between summer and fall. I’m still seeing stone fruit in the bins at my grocery store. I bought some nectarines last week and they were a bit hard, so I put them on a plate in the window of my kitchen, where they got nice and ripe. Then, of course, I liked the look of them on that plate so much that I left them a bit too long for eating out of your hand. That didn’t stop me, though, because I’d found this very nice recipe that cooks them. So the fact that some of the diced pieces were a little less clean cut looking wasn’t a problem.

Stone fruits are really good with pork. Ok, lots of fruits are good with pork. But this recipe, which you can also make with any other ground meat, pulled together a perfect umami/sweet/savory combination of the pork and the nectarines and the basil in my garden. In fact, the original called for peaches, but you have to peel peaches, and the Kitchen Goddess likes to avoid peeling peaches. Nectarines don’t need peeling. Neither do plums, which would also be good in this treatment. Take a look at what’s available at your grocer. And in a pinch, the KG believes that frozen peach slices would work equally well. Once they get cooked, there’s not much difference in the flavor or texture.

I served this dish over rice noodles because it seemed like a fun idea. Having never made rice noodles, I just threw the whole package into the water, and ended up with way more than I needed. Really, a one-cup portion will do just fine per person. The dish would also work well over egg noodles or rice. Regardless of what you use, there’s a definite need for something to soak up that amazing sauce.

Kitchen Goddess note: Rice noodles have about 192 calories per cup; egg noodles have 221. So not much difference, and not much fat in either one, but rice noodles have less. And the fat in rice noodles is unsaturated, which is healthy for you.

Skillet Meatballs with Nectarines and Basil

Adapted from Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Serves 4.

1½ tablespoons fresh ginger, finely grated or minced
3 garlic cloves, grated or minced
1¼ teaspoons of ground cumin
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound ground pork (or turkey, or chicken, or beef)
⅓ cup panko or other plain bread crumbs*
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil, plus small leaves for garnishing
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons wine (dry white, rosé or red – KG used a dry white), or broth
2 cups diced ripe nectarines (3-4), or peaches, plums, or frozen peach slices
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots (can substitute white onion or scallions)
1 lime
White rice, rice noodles, or egg noodles, for serving

*Kitchen Goddess note: Panko are Japanese-style breadcrumbs, which are made from crustless white bread in a process that produces a flakier crumb than regular breadcrumbs. If you don’t have any, use regular breadcrumbs, but know that the panko absorb less oil, so they produce a lighter and crunchier end product. Unused panko will keep for 6 + months in a Ziploc® bag in the cupboard. The KG loves panko.

In a small bowl, mix together the ginger, garlic, cumin and salt. In a large bowl, combine the pork, panko, and basil, and add the spice mix. Using your hands, gently mix everything together, trying not to squeeze or overwork the meat, to keep it tender. Form the mixture into meatballs about 1¼ inches in diameter.

Heat a large (not non-stick) skillet over medium-high, and add the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the meatballs in one layer. Yes, they will stick to the pan at first, so place them carefully. After a minute or two, a browned crust will develop and the pan will get hot enough that you can turn the meatballs... to a position where they’ll stick again! Don’t try to turn them immediately after they stick. Wait a minute or two, then turn again. Once the meatballs have developed a sort of crust over most of their surface, you can easily shake the pan a few times to move them around, further developing a nice evenly crusty exterior. (This shaking the pan while you cook produces for the KG a cool feeling that she really knows what she’s doing. Maybe it will do that for you, too!) Cook the meatballs, turning and shaking the pan, until they are browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess note on cooking protein in a skillet/sauté pan: The best way to cook any protein in a pan is to let it sit for a bit after you place it – even though there’s oil in the pan. Here’s what Cook’s Illustrated says about that: “Meat sticks during cooking when the sulfur atoms in the protein react with the metal atoms in the pan, forming a strong chemical bond that fuses the meat to the metal. Once the pan becomes hot enough, the link between the protein and the metal will loosen, and the bond will eventually break.” So now you know.

When the meatballs are sufficiently browned, pour the wine into the skillet and move the meatballs over to one side of the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom (known as the fond – remember fond? It’s the magic ingredient in the sauce, and you don’t get it with a Teflon pan.)

To the empty side of pan, add the nectarines, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of water. When the fruit reaches a simmer, cover the pan, lower the heat to medium, and let it all cook another 5-10 minutes, until the meatballs are no longer pink at their centers, and the peaches are juicy and tender.

Uncover the pan. If there appears to be more liquid than you like, let it cook down for another 1-2 minutes. The fruit should break down into a chunky sauce. If your fruit was less than fully ripe, you may need a few extra minutes.

Stir the shallots/onions into the pan for another 1-2 minutes, until they’re visibly soft. Squeeze the juice from half the lime over everything, then taste and add salt and/or lime juice, as needed. (Tart fruit will likely need less lime juice than sweet.)

Serve the meatballs over rice or noodles (or rice noodles!) with a wedge of lime, and garnished with small or torn basil leaves.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Drinking the Blues Away

 What’s cooking? Blue Butterfly Pea Tea, Blue Lemonade, Blue Margaritas

Is this not the coolest looking drink you've ever seen? Stay with me... 

My grandson, James has a favorite color: blue. Blue shoes. Blue shirts. We’ve made snickerdoodles together – he wanted his blue. I’ve made dinosaur cookies for him more than once; they, too, have to be blue. And it turns out, this predisposition puts him in the forefront of fashion this year.

Are you aware that there’s a color of the year? True, true. It sounds almost ridiculous, but we all know that certain colors rise and fall in the world of fashion and decor. Remember when avocado green was all the rage? But that was before Pantone – the color company – decided to exert some control over our collective imagination.

Every year, Pantone’s color experts choose and promote a Color of the Year (COTY). Combining trend analysis and new color influences, they consider various cultural and social icons, take the temperature of the collective psyche, then look deeply into their crystal balls, and issue a proclamation. This year, the COTY is Classic Blue.

Amazingly enough, the color you see here on your screen might not even be the true Classic Blue. Why? Because color is one of the great and conspicuous weaknesses in display technology. In fact (according The New Yorker magazine, which never lies), the range of colors available on the latest digital devices is more restricted than on color television screens from the 1960s.

Pantone’s poobahs say that Classic Blue is “a timeless and enduring blue hue, elegant in its simplicity. Suggestive of the sky at dusk, the reassuring qualities of Classic Blue offer the promise of protection. Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, instilling calm and confidence and offering refuge.” Golly, I feel better already.

So as a foodie, what can one do with the Classic Blue? Not too many blue foods, although blueberries are very close to Pantone 19-4052, and a lot easier to remember. I once made the mistake of tossing some purple new potatoes into a fish chowder, and it turned the fish a nearly electric shade of blue. For a while, I thought some strange bacteria had infected the fish until I realized it was the potatoes; but at that point, I couldn’t really bring myself to eat the chowder and I threw it out. It just looked too weird.

But the Kitchen Goddess has made a discovery. Among the strange food-related items I’ve purchased since the lockdown began is a bag of Butterfly Pea Flower Tea. I know, it’s a mouthful. But other than blueberries, it’s one of the few true blue foods that exist in nature.

The tea flavor has that light earthiness of a green tea. Made from the flowers of the Clitoria ternatea plant, it isn’t technically a “tea,” but a tisane – a caffeine-free herbal beverage. It’s been around for centuries, originating in Southeast Asia, where its color-changing properties make it popular also in desserts and cocktails. Yes, you heard me right: color-changing. Are you intrigued? Read on...

So... is it also healthy? So glad you asked. Butterfly pea flower tea (also referred to as “pigeon-wing” tea) is chock-full of the antioxidant proanthocyanidin, which promotes collagen growth and skin cell elasticity and helps prevent chronic diseases, and acetylcholine, which promotes brain function and memory. These two factors alone should be enough to get us all mainlining the stuff.

The tea, on the other hand, is not just healthy – it’s really, really fun. It starts out deep blue, but if you add lemon or a bit of other citrus juice, the blue changes to purple. Now, isn’t that fun? The color goes from blue to purple when the pH level changes, in much the same way that a gardener can encourage hydrangeas to bloom blue by adding an acidic organic mulch. But this change happens before your eyes. Like magic!

I found my Blue Butterfly Pea Tea at amazon.com (where else?), but you can also get some from the very excellent tea company, Tea Forté, or at many of the other tea stores online. I bought the dried flowers and the powder version, but have not yet played with the latter.

Brewing Guide

■ For hot tea, use 1½ teaspoons of loose butterfly pea flower tea to 8 ounces of water heated to 205-210 degrees. Steep 3-4 minutes.

■ For cold brewing, use the same ratio of tea to cold water and steep 12 hours.

Butterfly pea flower tea isn’t as tricky to make as black or green tea in that it doesn’t get bitter if you brew it for too long. As I mentioned, it doesn’t have a strong distinctive taste on its own; the KG always adds lemon and/or honey, but you can make a blue tea latte by adding milk and sugar. And now, the Kitchen Goddess presents you with two other perfectly delightful ways to enjoy it.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipes here are ones I found on other blogs as I rattled around the web. The originators are both food bloggers, and their blogs, which you can reach through the links posted in the attributions, are both well worth a visit – good writing, beautiful photos, and inspiring recipes.

This photo is of Stage 2 -- after the citrus addition but before stirring.
But it's also the prettiest.

Blue Butterfly Pea Lemonade
Adapted from the blog, Love & Olive Oil, by Lindsay Landis 

Makes about 48 ounces or 8 servings.

5 cups filtered water, divided
1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
½ cup (¼ ounce) dried butterfly pea flowers
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (should take 8-10 lemons)

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the sugar into 3 cups of the filtered water just until the sugar completely dissolves. Add the butterfly pea flowers and stir enough to combine. 

Bring the mixture to a simmer – no more stirring! – then cover the pan and let it steep off the heat for 10 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the mix and discard the flowers. Refrigerate to cool.

In a separate jar or glass measuring cup, combine the lemon juice with the remaining 2 cups of water. Kitchen Goddess note: If you don’t want to make so much at one time, just refrigerate the syrup and add lemon juice and water in a 1:2 ratio (e.g., for a single serving, use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to ¼ cup of water).

To serve, fill tall glasses with ice. Pour the butterfly pea syrup to about the halfway mark of the glass.

Here you are: Stage 1: Just the syrup over ice

Stage 3: Presto change-o! What was blue is now mauve.

To fully experience the color-changing magic, pour the lemon-water over the ice slowly, and... voila! Where the lemon meets the syrup, the color will slowly change from blue to mauve. Stir to combine the two mixtures until the color has completely turned.

* * *

I started working on this post mid-summer, and it’s almost karmic that today is Dieciséis de Septiembre, which for Mexico is the country’s 4th of July. So as we celebrate their Independence Day with our neighbors to the south, what better way than to mix up a color-changing margarita? It’s not just tasty, it’s a fiesta all to itself.

Blue Magic Margarita
Adapted from Meghan, who writes the blog, Fox-and-Briar

Makes 4 drinks.


For the infused tequila:
1 cup Silver Tequila
8 Butterfly Pea Flowers (dried)

For the margaritas:
4 ounces Butterfly Pea Flower Infused Tequila
2 ounces (¼ cup) lime juice
1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) triple sec or other orange liqueur (I used Paula’s Texas Orange)
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) simple syrup [For simple syrup: In a clean saucepan, stir together equal parts water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and store.]

First, make Butterfly Pea Infused Tequila. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the tequila and dried butterfly pea flowers. Let the mixture sit overnight or for at least 2-3 hours. Use a fine-mesh strainer to remove the flowers. The tequila will keep for... well, mine has lasted two months without a problem. Which means I’m clearly not making margaritas often enough.

Stage 1: Butterfly-pea-infused tequila alone over ice. 

For the Blue Magic Margarita, first rim your glasses with salt (optional): either (1) dip the rim of a glass in a shallow saucer of water or lemon or lime juice, or (2) moisten the rim using a slice of lemon or lime. Then dip the rim in a saucer of salt.

Fill the glass with ice, and add the butterfly-pea-infused tequila.

Stage 2: See how it changes as you're pouring? Notice that the syrupy ingredients are now
what's being poured, so they end up at the bottom of the glass. For the lemonade, the syrup
was already in the glass, so the citrus stayed on top.

In a separate jar or cocktail shaker, mix the lime juice, triple sec, and simple syrup. (If you like a less sweet drink, just reduce the amount of simple syrup.)  Shake well. Slowly pour the mixture into the tequila, and watch the drink turn from blue to mauve. (As with the lemonade, the fun is in pouring slowly, to better watch the color change. Stir to fully combine before drinking.  Garnish with a thin slice of lime.

And wish any of your Latino friends “¡Feliz día de Independencia!

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Devil Made Me Do It

What’s cooking? Preserved Lemons and Warm Green Vinaigrette

The Kitchen Goddess got a little carried away in this post, so here’s the short-form:

1. The etymology of “idle hands” – ok, not funny, but interesting.

2. Easy instructions for preserving lemons. Which you’ll want to do after reading #3.

3. A perfectly wonderful and seriously useful recipe for Warm Green Vinaigrette. The KG had it at almost every meal (even on hard-boiled eggs, for breakfast), until she ran out.

Even after four months of this pandemic... experience, I wake up almost every morning with a check of all my faculties, wondering if that tingling feeling means anything. Then I get up, have breakfast, and realize it was probably just the need for food and coffee.

I read the paper – not for any news, because it’s almost all the same stuff these days (politics and Covid case counts), but for the occasional piece on science or the arts or fun things to do with your small children, even though the small children in my family are nearly 1,700 miles away. I send links or actual clippings from that last category of pieces to my daughter-in-law, in hopes of helping her cope, but mostly as just something to do. That would be because I’ll take almost any excuse to keep from having to clean up/organize my office.

The office cleaning/organizing thing is easier to avoid if I just stay in the kitchen. But you know the old saying about idle hands... Would you like to know where that saying comes from? Of course you would.

Way back in the 4th century, St. Jerome wrote, “engage in some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy.” A thousand years later, Chaucer ran with a similar thought in the “Prologue to the Second Nun’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales: “An idle man is like a place that has no walls; the devils may enter on every side.”.

Then the Protestants got hold of it. According to my New Jersey minister, Martin Luther (in the 16th century) was the first theologian to suggest that our work in the world was as important as the holiness that the monastery sought to achieve. And The Living Bible in 1971 cemented the concept into its translation, with “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece.” Leave it to the Protestants...

Okay, enough of that.

So when the Kitchen Goddess finds herself with time on her hands, it’s hard to know where the devil will take her. The latest urge was inspired by a recipe for Warm Green Vinaigrette, which included as an ingredient “preserved lemon.”

In the past, when the KG had a need for preserved lemon, she either found some in jars at Whole Foods, or substituted lemon zest and a bit of lemon juice, which doesn’t quite fit the bill. Preserved lemons deliver a mellower taste than you get with fresh lemon – a mildly tart, yet intense lemony flavor. But the process of making them takes 3-4 weeks. Hmmm... she said to herself, 3-4 weeks... I think I have that kind of time.

It turns out that the actual work of preserving lemons takes maybe a half hour. You hear that? Thirty minutes. The rest of the time, you’re just shaking them up once a day. I remembered doing the preparations once when we lived full-time in New Jersey, then putting the jar on a shelf in my pantry. I discovered it several years later, when we were moving, and while those lemons might have been well preserved, I had no real interest in investigating.

But I know that many of you now also have some extra time. And – to repeat – this project just needs shaking/turning the jar once a day, to encourage the salt to dissolve and distribute itself in the brine. Moreover, once you have some, they’ll keep at least a year – maybe longer, as long as they stay submerged in the brine.

The internet has enough YouTube videos and written recipes for preserving lemons to make your head spin. But I thought this was the simplest and most straightforward. It comes from Julia Moskin in The New York Times, who (in the grand tradition of recipe borrowing) adapted it from Paula Wolfert in Wolfert’s 1973 book, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.

Preserved Lemons

Adapted from Julia Moskin in The New York Times

When I saw how tightly they pack,
I shifted to a smaller jar.
5-6 lemons for preserving [Kitchen Goddess note: Organic is recommended because you’ll be eating the skins. If you can’t find organic, let the lemons sit in some vinegar water for a few minutes, then rinse. KG used Meyer lemons, but regular are fine.]
2-3 more lemons for juice
Kosher salt

Special equipment: one medium-sized jar with a tight-fitting lid – whatever size will fit the number of lemons you want to preserve – sterilized in the dishwasher or in a large pot where it can sit raised off the bottom (use a footed baking rack or steamer), in boiling water for 5 minutes. I used a 17-ounce Mason jar with a clamp lid, which I read works better than the ones with ring-type lids. (Don’t boil the rubber gasket.) In that little 17-ounce jar, I fit 6 Meyer lemons.

Scrub the lemons clean. Slice the ends off each lemon, then cut into quarters lengthwise from the top to within ½ inch of the bottom, leaving them attached at one end.

Cover the bottom of the jar with 2-3 tablespoons of kosher salt. Lightly pack each lemon with kosher salt, then reshape the fruit and fit the lemons into the jar. Press on the lemons as you fit them into the jar, to release the juice. Break some of the lemons apart if necessary, to fit in as many as you can. As you get one layer set, sprinkle more salt before adding another layer.

Press the lemons down to release their juices. Squeeze the additional lemons into the jar until juice covers everything.

Close the jar and let the lemons ripen at cool room temperature, shaking the jar every day (to dissolve the salt and distribute the brine) for 3-4 weeks, or until the rinds are tender. Then store the jar in the refrigerator.

As you can see in the photo above, the Kitchen Goddess had a handy aid to make sure the lemons were all submerged. It’s called a Pickle Pebble, and you can get a package of 4 for $18.95 at amazon.com. The generic name is fermentation weights, and they’re available at a number of websites or kitchen stores. They’re not mandatory – KG was on amazon.com and saw them, and it was like a little twinkle she could not resist. You can just add more juice.

To use the preserved lemons, remove a piece of lemon and rinse it. (My understanding is that you can add more fresh lemons to the brine as you use them up, but am thinking I’ll just wait until I’ve used the entire jar’s worth.) Recipes usually call for the minced rind to be added at the very end of cooking or used raw; the pulp can be added to a simmering pot.

What would you do with preserved lemons if you had some?
You might make Chicken Tagine, a traditional Moroccan dish that’s both easy and impressive. With a little research, the Kitchen Goddess has unearthed a handful of chicken recipes that she plans to try and pass on to you... soon. Preserved lemons are also good on grilled fish and braised veggies.

Here’s that warm vinaigrette over scallops that were already perfectly delicious, suddenly even more so.

Or try this delightful and flexible, light and bright, tart and savory warm green vinaigrette. (Is that enough helpful adjectives?) The Kitchen Goddess is amazed at how well it transforms the simplest salads, gives a dressy touch to asparagus or green beans, and adds sparkle to a dinner of sautéed scallops over rice. (See above.) And according to the originator of the recipe, any leftover sauce is great spooned over creamy ricotta.

Warm Green Vinaigrette

Adapted from Laurie Ellen Pellicano in Taste Magazine.

Makes 1 cup of dressing.

½ cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2-3 hefty sprigs of fresh oregano
1 tablespoon roughly chopped capers
5-6 Castelvetrano olives, or other meaty green olives, roughly chopped (enough to make 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced preserved lemons (about ¼ of one lemon, flesh included)*
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

*Kitchen Goddess note: Be sure to rinse the lemon wedge in cold water and pat it dry before using it.

Heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the oregano sprigs together in a small skillet over medium-low heat. As the heat rises, the oil will tend to sputter with the oregano. This is normal. Once the sputtering picks up and the oregano leaves have turned dark and stiff (3-4 minutes), remove the sprigs with small tongs or a fork, and let them drain on paper towels.

Add the chopped capers to the oil and cook for 1-2 minutes, until they appear to be lightly browned. Add the olives, and cook the mixture an additional 1 minute, stirring regularly just to lightly fry the olives. Turn the heat off, but leave the skillet in place on the warm burner.

Stir in the Dijon mustard, preserved lemon, and white wine vinegar, then whisk in the remaining ½ cup olive oil. Finely crumble the fried oregano leaves between your fingers, and add them to the vinaigrette.

Stir well to combine. Add salt and several fresh grinds of black pepper, to taste. If you’re going to be using the vinaigrette immediately, leave it in the skillet or saucepan until you’re ready. Otherwise, scrape it into a jar or other container to be stored in the fridge. Use warm or at room temperature;
if you store it refrigerated, temper it in a microwave or skillet/saucepan over low heat when ready to use.

Happy lemon preserving, everyone!