Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Summer of Grandchildren

What’s cooking? Ham-Jam Sandwiches and Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam






It must be something in the water or the air, or maybe it’s just the age my friends and I have reached, but the bottom line is an explosion of grandchildren. Just this summer, my cousin and four of my friends have either become new grandmothers or have expanded their collections. Another friend has two of her three children bringing tiny people into the world this fall, and if I include last summer in the accounting, I can add a sister-in-law and three more friends into the club.

To the new Dee-Dees/Memaws/Nonas or whatever they’re calling themselves, I’ve passed along a copy of Anna Quindlen’s recently released book of essays, Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting (Random House 2019). As a writer, Quindlen has long been a favorite of mine, and this collection of inspiring thoughts has not disappointed me.

When that first grandchild arrived, I had only one issue: what will she call me? It will not surprise you that on this subject, I have fairly strong feelings. Many of my friends and family say they’ll let the little darlings come up with something on their own. And many of the resulting monikers are admittedly darling. (My brother’s children called their maternal grandfather “Honey” because that’s what they heard his wife call him.) I imagine that’s how my own grandmothers – “Mamo” and “Gam” – got their nicknames, as mishmashed versions of “Grandmother.”

But I prefer not to leave these things to chance. How do I know it’ll be something I like? And how will their mothers and fathers refer to me with the children if I don’t already have a name? These questions haunted me. It’s probably also the influence of my mother, who, once I became an adult, complained that she was tired of being “Mama,” and said my brother and I should call her something with more flair, like “Mumzy.” Which is what I called her ever after and what my children called her.

So I tested quite a few handles on my own before arriving at “Lita.” It’s short for “abuelita,” which in Spanish is an affectionate term for “grandmother.” Of course, my grandchildren couldn’t pronounce it early – a fact that my husband, who’s in the “whatever” camp, was kind enough to point out – but I was happy to be “Ita” until they could manage the “L.” I suggested they call him “Grumpy,” but he wouldn’t go along.

And now the mints I carry for them in my purse are known as “Lita mints,” and the cookies I send on Halloween, Christmas, etc. are “Lita cookies.” So everyone is happy.

* * *

One of my grandchildren’s favorite lunches is PB&J. And a few adults I know will occasionally indulge themselves in that. Now you can have the grown-up version of PB&J: the Ham-Jam Sandwich.

I spotted it in a recent issue of Food & Wine Magazine, and couldn’t wait to make it. Both the sandwich and the jam are from genius chef Gabriel Rucker, a two-time James Beard Award winner, a 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef, and co-owner of Le Pigeon, Little Bird Bistro, and Canard in Portland, Oregon.

As in the classic PB&J, this sandwich is a perfect symphony of flavors – the high notes of sweet blueberry jam, the smoky, meaty low notes of the salty prosciutto, and the first two mellowed out with the cool creaminess of the goat cheese/butter combo. A truly sophisticated take on a truly simple treat. And you can play with the combo even more: serve thin slices as hors d’oeuvres, or pile the ingredients on crostini (goat cheese butter on bottom, prosciutto on next, dollop of jam on top).

I’ve included the recipe for the Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam because that’s what Chef Rucker uses; so, of course, that’s what the Kitchen Goddess used. But you can substitute whatever good blueberry jam you like best. I will say that if you aren’t averse to jam-making, this one is outstanding (note the full bottle of wine in the mix). If you don’t want to end up with 7 jars of the stuff, just cut the recipe in half and drink half of the wine.

Chef Rucker designed these sandwiches to be part of a summer picnic. The Kitchen Goddess served them to her prince, with a salad, for a light summer dinner, and he was mighty pleased.


Ham-Jam Sandwiches

Adapted from Chef Gabriel Rucker in Food & Wine, July 2019.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

3 ounces goat cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) of unsalted butter, softened
1 20-inch, good-quality baguette
5-6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
⅓-½ cup Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam (or any high-quality store-bought blueberry jam)

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the goat cheese and butter until the mixture is smooth. (You can make this mixture earlier in the day, and refrigerate it; but be sure to set it out for at least a half-hour, to bring it to room temperature, before assembling the sandwiches. Alternatively, you can leave it out, covered, for up to 2 hours before serving.)



Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and spread the jam liberally on one side. On the other side, spread the goat cheese butter and drape the ribbons of prosciutto on top. Season with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper if you like. Fold the baguette halves together and cut into even pieces to serve.





This jam is wonderfully fruity without being overly sweet. The Gamay-based wine adds a bright acidity to the fat, ripe summer blueberries. This sweet-tart jam also makes a fun addition to a cheese and charcuterie board.


Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam

Adapted from Chef Gabriel Rucker in Food & Wine, July 2019.

Yield: Makes 7 cups



Ingredients

1 (750-milliliter) bottle of Beaujolais wine
6 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
8 cups fresh blueberries (about 2½ pounds)
5 tablespoons (or 1 packet) powdered fruit pectin (I used RealFruit Classic Pectin)














Kitchen Goddess note on pectin: Pectin is a substance – a polysaccharide, if you must know, but the KG’s mind is already swimming with this tiny walk past a chemistry book – whose principal use is as a gelling agent, thickening agent, and stabilizer in food. Pears, apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and citrus skins contain large amounts of pectin, though in declining levels as the fruit ripens. So if you’re making jam or jelly from any of these fruits, you don’t need to add pectin to get the mixture to gel.


Blueberries, on the other hand, have almost no pectin, so you must add commercial pectin to get your jam to set. (The tiny amount of zest in this recipe won’t do the trick.) Pectin is sold in liquid and powdered form, but they’re not exactly interchangeable, so if you’re making this jam, get some powdered pectin. I bought a plastic tub of it; it also comes in packets that weigh 1.6 ounces if you buy Ball RealFruit, or 1.75 ounces if you buy Sure-Jell. I don’t think the difference in weight can make a real difference in your jam. If you buy the tub, use 5 tablespoons, which is somewhere in between.






Directions

Using a large French oven (mine was a 5-quart Le Creuset) over medium-high heat, bring the wine, sugar, lemon zest, and cardamom to a boil. Maintain a low boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for about 30 minutes. The mixture should reduce by about half.

Add the blueberries, and return the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to burst, which will take 5-7 minutes. Stash a saucer or other small plate in your freezer, for testing the jam. Then stir the pectin into the mix and continue to cook, stirring often, for 20-25 minutes, at which point the jam should be thick and syrupy. When you think it’s about done, turn off the heat.

Spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the plate from the freezer and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Gently prod the puddle of jam with your finger. If you can see a sort of wrinkled skin on the puddle, and the jam on the plate seems to be no longer runny, it should be done. If not, return the pot of jam to a boil for a few more minutes.




Once the jam is done, add the lemon juice and move the pan off the burner.

Option 1: If you aren’t planning to preserve the jam, let it cool for about an hour, until it reaches room temperature. Ladle the jam into jars or other airtight containers and chill at least overnight.

Option 2: If you are planning to preserve the jam, don’t bother to let it cool. Just load it into your prepared jars and process it. If you don’t know processing for preserves, check out my link HERE. The best thing about preserving jams and chutneys and jellies and whatever is that they will last for months – well over a year, in fact, without refrigeration. It’s what the Kitchen Goddess gives her friends for Christmas or hostess gifts or just about any occasion.




Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Toasts to Summer!

What’s cooking? Morel Mushroom Toasts with Parsley Salad and Flatbread Toasts with Fava Beans, Cucumbers, and Burrata







It’s July, and the Kitchen Goddess has been cooking like “a house afire,” as my Yankee dad used to say. So much so that I’ve neglected to write. Oh, yes, I’ve started pieces on all these delectable dishes, but can’t seem to get finished.

What have I been doing, you ask? Well, my prince and I have discovered that if you live in a place for 10 years, things start to go wrong, even in a house that was new when you moved in. This spring in Texas, for instance, those “things” were the ice maker, the sprinkler system, and the doorbell. Not everything needed a complete overhaul; the sprinkler system, for one, had just gotten a little out of whack and needed adjusting. The doorbell worked, sort of, but the sound was a thunk, not a ding-dong, and we could only hear someone ringing if we were standing right next to the box. The icemaker was in complete meltdown, so to speak, and has to be replaced.

So we fixed what we could and left for the summer in New Jersey, where we found:

■ a wobbly toilet paper holder that finally detached itself from the wall entirely;
■ two bathroom light fixtures that over the last two years slowly, excruciatingly, stopped working light by light, so that by this summer, we could barely see ourselves in the mirror;
■ hot water pressure in the kitchen sink that barely qualifies as more than a dribble;
■ an interior door handle that mysteriously has become so loose it threatens to lock some unfortunate soul into the guest bedroom; and
■ a dead printer, which failed to recover from being dropped on the floor during our Christmas visit.

These are not the sorts of problems that either of us enjoys addressing. One of us took the time to create a spreadsheet of the issues, with boxes for noting progress and next steps, and posted it on the refrigerator door; the other of us has studiously ignored that paper, relying on the creator of said spreadsheet to remind/nag him as to progress. It’s not a methodology I can recommend, but eventually, things get done. I’m hoping this gives us a reprieve for the next 10 years, but who knows.

So with those items mostly taken care of, I can get back to telling you about the exciting dishes the Kitchen Goddess has been preparing. Today’s recipes both feature Toast. Not the kind that goes with your eggs or your BLT or even a glass of champagne – although I can see toasting to these toasts with some bubbly. Both are amazingly simple preparations that can serve as lunch on their own, or a light summer dinner when accompanied by a hearty salad and a nice chilled glass of dry rosé or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And if you slice the bread into smaller pieces, either recipe can work well as an appetizer.

As you’ll see, both assemblages are remarkably flexible. Just don’t skip the parsley salad on the morels.




Morel Mushroom Toasts with Parsley Salad

Adapted from The Tasting Table (tastingtable.com), May 2014

This whole thing started when the Kitchen Goddess stumbled across some fresh morels at her fabulous farmers’ market. If you can’t easily find morels, do not panic. The best substitutes are probably porcini or hen-of-the-woods, or really any variety of wild mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, maitake, etc.). Morels have a very woodsy, earthy flavor, which you won’t get with criminis, portabellas, or white button mushrooms; so avoid those.




Kitchen Goddess note: If you are lucky enough to find fresh morels, choose ones that are fresh, firm, and dry. Generally speaking, the larger ones have a tendency toward sponginess and rot; but if you find large ones in good shape, go for them. Inspect morels for dirt and debris before you begin to cook, and clean them off using a dry pastry brush.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the mushroom saute:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced (about ¼ cup)
1 fresh bay leaf ( or 2 small dried bay leaves)
½ pound morels, cleaned, trimmed and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
½ cup crème fraîche (easy substitutions include heavy cream, sour cream, or plain 2% yogurt)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the salad:
1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 teaspoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon olive oil

For the bread:
1 medium whole wheat baguette (or whole wheat sourdough), sliced horizontally in half
1 clove garlic

Directions

In a large skillet at medium temperature, heat together the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 2-3 minutes.

Add the bay leaf and the morels. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender. (This timing may change with other mushroom types, so you’ll have to judge for yourself. Mostly, you just want the mushrooms to be tender.)

Stir in the crème fraîche until it’s well combined with the mushroom mix, and adjust the heat if necessary to keep it from burning. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes more, to let the flavors come together.

Stir in the thyme and lemon zest and remove the skillet from heat. Season the mushroom mixture with salt and pepper.



In a small mixing bowl, toss the parsley, chives, lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper with the teaspoon of olive oil.

Toast the bread lightly under the broiler, and cut the garlic clove in half. Rub the cut side of the garlic clove on the warm toasts to scent them. Spoon the mushroom mixture over the toasts and slice in appropriately sized pieces. Top with parsley salad. Serve.

* * *


Flatbread Toasts with Fava Beans, Cucumbers, and Burrata

Adapted from Dave Muller & Lana Porcello in Bon Appétit, April 2016

Yes, fava beans take a while to make ready for cooking, but that’s never been an issue for the Kitchen Goddess, who dearly loves them. If you don’t want to use fava beans, by all means make this toast with fresh or frozen lima beans, or fresh or frozen edamame. Cooking times and quantities are the same as for favas.


To process fava beans (Click here to see more details with more photos):
Shuck the beans, discarding the pods. Bring a large saucepan (or soup pot, depending on how many beans you have) of salted water to a boil. Add the shucked beans and cook 1 minute once the water has returned to a boil. This will set the green color and loosen the skins. Drain the beans in a colander, then plunge them into an ice water bath for 1-2 minutes to stop the cooking.
Drain them from the ice bath and, using a paring knife or fingernail, pierce the outer skin of each bean and gently squeeze it to slip off the skin; discard the skins. Use them immediately or refrigerate for 1-2 days in a covered bowl, or blot dry then pack into a zip-top storage bag for freezing, first removing as much air as possible from the bag.

Yields 8 servings.

Ingredients

For the topping:
2 cups shelled fava beans (you’ll need about 2 pounds of pods), or limas or edamame
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

For the assembly:
1 large naan bread (preferably whole wheat) or 1 small whole wheat baguette
2 8-ounce burrata balls or soft mozzarella, drained
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
Basil leaves, sliced in chiffonade, or mint leaves, roughly chopped (optional)
Flaky sea salt and pepper

Directions

Bring a medium saucepan of well-salted water (1-2 tablespoons per quart of water) to a boil. Add the beans (shelled and skinned) and bring the water back to a boil. Cook 4 minutes, until the beans are tender, then remove to an ice water bath.

Combine the cucumber slices with the vinegar in a small bowl and set aside for 10-12 minutes.

While the cucumbers soak, combine half the beans in a small mixing bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper. Using a fork or other mashing instrument (the Kitchen Goddess used a small measuring cup), mash the beans enough to make a rough paste. Stir in the remaining beans and season to taste with salt and pepper.


If you are using naan bread, toast according to package instructions. If using baguette, slice it horizontally and toast lightly
under a broiler.

Remove the cucumbers from the vinegar and discard the vinegar. Tear the burrata/mozzarella into pieces and spread it along the bread. Pile the bean mixture evenly on top, and scatter the
cucumbers over the bean mixture. Sprinkle with basil/mint and toasted sesame seeds, then dust lightly with flaky sea salt and pepper. Slice the bread into appropriately sized pieces, and serve.





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Next New Idea

What’s cooking? Ensalada de Nopalitos y Camarones (Cactus Salad with Shrimp)





SPOILER ALERT: Don't pass this salad up because you don't have cactus leaves. You can also make it with fresh green beans. And now, on to my story...

Creativity for me is a little like growing grapes for wine: the harder the vines have to work, the better the outcome.

Consider today’s dish. The occasion was a dinner with our gourmet group: four couples who like to experiment with food and cooking techniques, and who also like wine. Which makes them not all that different from many of our other friends.

What this group has that not all the other friends have is one guy who is a relentless organizer. I’ve mentioned him before in a post – he’s the one who got us together in the first place, the one who puts all the courses into a fancy menu format before the dinner, the one who keeps a spreadsheet record of every course in every dinner. And the one who sends cheery email notes out a day or two after each dinner, to say, “So when should we schedule the next gathering?” And since no one has the nerve to tell him to lay off for a month or two, we keep having another dinner. Not a terrible outcome.

When that email arrives, the Kitchen Goddess reacts with undisguised glee and unbounded enthusiasm – no, wait. At this point, the Kitchen Goddess is out of steam. Having just barely recovered from focusing on the last dinner’s designated theme (proposed by whichever couple will be hosting and preparing the entrée) – I can’t get even a little interested in shifting to the next new idea. So I react with my usual level of equanimity.

“We should get out of this group,” I say to my mate. “I don’t have any new ideas. And I like it better when I have total control over the menu.”

“But I thought you liked the last dinner,” he says. “And the people are really fun.”

“I did, and they are,” I sigh. “I’m just not ready to start thinking again.”

Fortunately, there’s probably a month between the “start your engines” email and the announcement of the next theme. And a funny thing happens on the way to the kitchen. All that grousing and mentally stomping my feet dispels the bad energy, so what’s left is acceptance. “Ok, fine,” I say. WTF.

As I start paging through cookbooks and wandering around the internet for inspiration, the process begins to be more interesting. Also, I remember that creative people are at their best when the challenge is greatest. There’s not much creativity needed to cook “anything.” But is there a salad that’s more than baby lettuce with vinaigrette for a fancy French theme? Why yes, there is. And it’s here:

Tomato Tarte Tatin
Or what if I need to come up with an Asian-inspired dessert? How about Molten Chocolate Cakes (made with Chinese Five-Spice Powder), served with Bubble Tea and Green Tea Ice Cream:



So what’s next? For our group’s most recent gathering, my assignment was the appetizer portion in a meal with an Interior Mexico theme. For a while, all I could picture was chips and guacamole, or chips and queso. Then I remembered a salad of cactus strips and pico de gallo that a friend served with a meal of enchiladas. The salad had a refreshing crispness with a vaguely citrus flavor. I decided to build on those ingredients and give it a bit more sparkle with sautéed shrimp, and... “¡Dios mío – delicioso!”

A brief note about prickly pear cactus
Low in calories and high in fiber and antioxidants, prickly pear cactus is touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and even hangovers. There’s some evidence it can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

And it tastes so much like green beans that you can substitute green beans for the cactus strips if you can’t find cactus leaves in your yard or at a local Latino grocer. Or if you can’t be bothered with the cactus leaf prep. Which I understand. Just blanch the green beans in boiling water for 15-30 seconds.



 Ensalada de Nopalitos y Camarones (Cactus Salad with Shrimp)



For the cactus paddles, choose new, tender growth – the young, thin paddles that appear in spring and summer. They should be pale to bright green in color and no larger than hand-size (6-7 inches from top to bottom). The thorns on these leaves will be fat and curly and easily knocked off. But you’ll still need to eliminated the nubs of the mature thorns that will be developing underneath. Those nubs must be removed before you can cook or eat the cactus. If you can’t find prickly pear cactus growing wild, try a Latino grocery store. The Kitchen Goddess was fortunate to have many cactus plants growing in her neighborhood.




Serves 8.

Ingredients

6-7 young paddles from prickly pear cactus
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
½ cup shallots, minced
¼-½ cup white wine vinegar
1 pound jumbo shrimp (21-25 per pound), cleaned and deveined
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, separated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters or eighths
1 large avocado, cut into ½-inch dice
1 small jalapeño, seeded and deveined, minced
⅓ cup fresh cilantro, loosely chopped
1 cup frozen corn
⅓ cup fresh lime juice
kosher salt/freshly ground pepper for seasoning
Garnish: tortilla chips

Directions


KitchenGoddess note: Be sure to protect your hands well in this first process: use heavy paper (like grocery bag paper) or heavy leather gardening gloves to hold the paddle with one hand while you cut with the other. 


1. Rinse the cactus paddles and lay them flat on a paper towel or cutting board. Using a vegetable peeler, paring knife, or other small, sharp knife, slice the nubs of thorns from the flat parts (rinsing or wiping your blade often to rid it of any small spines sticking to it), then trim ⅛- ¼ inch off the round edges of the paddles (where more nubs are growing).


Once you have all nubs off, slice the thin, flat parts of the paddles into strips about ¼ inch thick, discarding the thick bottom inch of the paddle where it attaches to the rest of the plant.



2. In a mixing bowl, lightly massage the strips of cactus with the kosher salt, then spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate for an hour. This process will help the cactus strips to weep much of the thick, clear sap inside.

3. While the cactus strips are weeping, soak the minced shallots in a small bowl with white wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar) to cover. Set aside.

4. Slice the shrimp into bite-sized pieces (mine were 2-3 pieces per shrimp). In a small skillet, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high, and sautée the shrimp 5-6 minutes. Transfer the cooked shrimp to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool.


5. To assemble the salad, in a large bowl, toss together the shrimp, tomatoes, avocado, jalapeño, frozen corn, cilantro and lime juice. Drain the shallots and add them to the mix. Discard the vinegar.



6. Remove the cactus strips from the fridge and rinse really well. Then, using paper towels, blot them dry really well. Many of them will have broken into smaller pieces; with a knife, cut the remaining strips into pieces 2-3 inches long. Add the cactus strips to the salad with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss well. Add several grinds of fresh pepper, but be sure to taste before you add any salt, as the nopalitos (cactus strips) will add more salt than you’ll expect.

Serve with tortilla chips.




* * *

And if you’re wondering what beverage we served with this delightful salad, here it is: Gingered Pear and Cucumber Margaritas. These were such a hit, I had to promise the other members of our group that I’d include them in this post.



The Kitchen Goddess completely outdid herself on this one. She took a recipe for a Gingered Pear and Cucumber Cooler (click here for the recipe), and substituted tequila for the original gin. Serving the drinks in a martini glass, she rimmed the glasses with lime juice then dipped them in a mix of pink salt, yellow sanding sugar, and cayenne pepper. Simply gorgeous, and dynamite flavors with the salad. It’s not always easy to get the layer of green to drift into the layer of golden yellow like a rainbow, but that doesn’t matter. The other group members fairly swooned, and there wasn’t a drop left in anyone’s glass.

¡Salud!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Celebrating Craziness

What’s cooking? Lemon Chicken with Herbs




Every year in late December, The New York Times Magazine publishes an issue called “The Lives They Lived.” It’s a tribute to many of the overlooked people who’ve done something significant in their lives and who died in the previous year.

One of those featured in the 2018 issue was Nobukazu Kuriki. I know, I hadn’t heard of him either. But maybe that’s because we traveled in different circles. Kuriki was a Japanese entrepreneur and mountaineer, known as a purist in his climbing style, which meant climbing solo and without supplementary oxygen. He died on his eighth attempt to summit Mount Everest.

Kuriki understood that his risk-taking was a bit insane. According to the Times, he wrote a Facebook post titled “No Crazy, No Mountain,” in which he said, “ The world of climbing mountains is crazy by nature... And there is something I want to tell everyone: ‘Please cherish the craziness that we all have within ourselves.’”

I like that. I’ve tried to count some of the ways I’m crazy – none of them life-threatening, thank goodness – but it became a sort of chicken-and-egg thing, where I couldn’t figure out if my craziness all stems from one thing or if they’re, like, all related in a sort of circular fashion.

One of the streets in Community First
There’s the cooking/detail-driven/language issues – three crazinesses that I will lay claim to. They all converged when a friend decided our gang should make dinner for a community of homeless people being housed in an Austin neighborhood called Community First. According to our leader, we needed five people to take chicken-and-rice casseroles, two for desserts, and two for salad. The KG really doesn’t like making salad, and by the time she signed up, the desserts were taken. Okay, fine, I said to myself. I’ll make chicken casserole. Here was the recipe we got: “In a large foil lasagna pan mix 5 cups white rice, 5 cans mushroom soup, 5 packets onion soup (dry) mix and 5 cups water. Top with 20 chicken thighs. Bake at 350 for 75 minutes.”

Typical home in Community First
It sounded simple enough, but my KG mind raced with possible tweaks. On my query, though, I learned that we should just do it plain. But even “plain,” you can imagine that the Kitchen Goddess had a thousand questions – or at least two to start. So I called my friend.  “Um,... is that cooked rice or raw rice? And are the chicken thighs boneless, skinless, or neither?”

Turns out it’s raw rice, and bone-in, skin-on for the chicken thighs.


So I went to the store, and found several varieties of dry onion soup. I called my friend from the soup aisle. “Is there a particular brand of onion soup mix that everyone is using? And we’re talking Campbell’s Mushroom Soup, right?”

She told me she buys Lipton Onion Soup mix and Campbell’s Mushroom Soup.

I called again from the foil pan aisle. “I don’t see a pan big enough to hold 20 chicken thighs. You think it’ll cook the same with a couple of smaller pans?”

“Yes,” she said. I thought she was starting to sound a bit testy, but maybe it was just my imagination.

I got home and began to assemble the casseroles. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the chicken to sit on top of the rice/soup mixture. So I called once more, and without even saying “Hello,” she said, “You know, Lee, maybe you should make cookies next time.”

* * *

So call me crazy, too. Now I’ll tell you what’s not crazy, and that’s this recipe for Lemon Chicken with Herbs, which is, frankly, a far cry from that chicken-and-rice casserole (though I’ll admit it wasn’t bad). My hubby calls this “Herb, the Lemon Chicken.” Whatever you call it, it takes almost no time or effort. And the delicate bath of olive oil, wine, and lemon both seasons and tenderizes the meat.


Lemon Chicken with Herbs 

Recipe from Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times

Serves 4.

Ingredients

4 medium-sized (about 8 ounces each) of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, or 2 pounds of chicken thighs (skinless, boneless)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
1 lemon, thinly sliced (seeds discarded)
¼ cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano, or 1 tablespoon of a combination of dried herbs, to include thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and oregano.

Directions

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. Place the chicken in a resealable bag, add the ½ cup oil, the lemon, the white wine, the garlic, and the herbs. Seal the bag, and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. Massage the contents occasionally, to evenly distribute the herbs, also turning the bag over now and then.


When you’re ready cook, heat a deep, heavy skillet (I used Le Creuset) on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Add the chicken pieces, and pour the rest of the marinade (with the lemons) on top.

Cook about 8 minutes to a side, reducing the heat slightly and covering the skillet for the second side. Serve over rice or egg noodles, with some of the sauce. As an option, garnish with the lemon slices.

Kitchen Goddess note: The recipe in the Times claimed that the chicken would turn golden brown on the first side. You will notice that mine did not. Nevertheless, it was absolutely delicious – tender and lightly flavored with the wine, lemon, and herbs. Next time, I plan to take a recommendation of one of the commenters, who suggested browning the chicken in the 2 tablespoons of marinade for 8 minutes, then removing the chicken and deglazing the pan with the rest of the marinade before adding back the chicken on the second side.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Shaggy Dog Story

What’s cooking? Sugar Snap Peas and Pasta





When our sons were growing up, we had a dog, a perfectly divine golden retriever named Spike. A 100% B personality – no real drive to do anything but eat, sleep, and be petted, with the occasional walk around the neighborhood. Though I now believe the walk was mostly a means to an end, for the biscuit he got on the return home.

Spike never barked. He squealed a bit when excited and he whined when it was time for dinner, but barking was much too aggressive an act.

Then one day, he got out of our yard and wandered off. I walked the neighborhood calling his name, but to no avail. I felt sure he was nearby – he was such a homebody, he wouldn’t have wandered far – but I was mostly afraid he was hurt. Then on my second circuit of our block, I started looking into the backyards of the neighbors. And there he was, trapped behind a fence. He’d gotten in but couldn’t figure the way out. He could see me and hear me calling, but he just stood there wagging his tail – no barking.

And that’s how my brain is working these days. Not long ago, in conversation with a friend, I forgot the word “infrastructure.” I know it perfectly well – but it wouldn’t come to me. I could see it wagging its tail – a long word, four or five syllables, starting with an “i,” and it had two parts. But my brain wouldn’t bark. So I said to my friend, “You know, roads and bridges...”

 “You mean infrastructure?” she said.

“Yes!! Thank you.” And we went on with our conversation.

So it’s these sorts of occurrences that remind me that I’m getting older. On the other hand,...

A group of our friends here in Austin has decided to hold “game nights” once a month. Rummicube, Sorry, canasta, backgammon,... When everyone shows up, we are 14, so sometimes we break into smaller groups and have a couple of games going at a time. Last month, though, my hubby took a game of Trivial Pursuit, so we divided into 4 teams and all played.

What an eye-opener. Turns out, everyone suffers from what I’ll call the Spike Syndrome. For instance, on the question of who played King George in “The King’s Speech,” everyone could picture Colin Firth – some could even name other movies he’d been in. But – maddeningly and hilariously – no one could call out his name.

As the game came down to the wire, my team was on the verge of winning, but we had one last question to answer: “Which Roman numerals correspond to 1,453?” Now, look away and see if you can figure it out before you read on.

As it happens, I like Roman numerals – the complete geek. So as the others on my team began calling out random letters, I held my hands out as if to calm the waters and said, “Wait – I can do this.”

All eyes were on me as I started with “M is 1000, and L is 50, and III for 3, but how to write 400? It’s C (100) less than 500, but what stands for 500? ” Arrgggh. I was having a Spike moment – I could see it wagging its tail, but... And the clock was counting down...

With about 3 seconds to go, my brain finally barked: D! “D! So it’s MCDLIII!!!” And we all cheered because we could stop the game and go home. But I basked in the glow for at least a day, that my brain, fuzzy as it might be, still works.

* * *

So it’s dinnertime, and my prince inquires sweetly (because he’s never sure how I’m feeling about the subject), “What’s for dinner, Snookums?”

Now, even in the Kitchen Goddess’s kitchen, there are those days when I say, “I have no idea.”

That usually means pizza or some other food prepared by Other People. But sometimes, if I’m honest with myself (which I try to be), I don’t really want OP food. So I check the pantry to see what form of pasta or rice we have, and stare at the contents of the fridge until something comes to mind. On the most recent such day, I seized on a package of sugar snap peas.

I checked out epicurious and found a pasta dish that included pesto made from the sugar snap peas. Then I read into the comments, and quite of few of the reviewers had eschewed the recipe pesto and combined the processed peas with some that was either store-bought or already sitting in the fridge from another recipe.

I could feel my brain warming up – of course, the Kitchen Goddess has pesto in the fridge, maybe even a couple of varieties. As you know, the KG loves pesto. And using ready-made pesto clinched the deal, because that raised the fast-and-easy factor by a huge amount. So much so that I’d like to call this Easy-Peas-y Pasta, but am afraid the pun would cause at least a few of you to gag. Which would be bad.

So here it is, and, if you’re interested, it carries a 3-fork rating out of 4, from 16 reviewers, and 100% said they’d make it again. That number will soon move to 17, as the Kitchen Goddess rates it a full 4 forks.


Sugar Snap Peas and Pasta

Adapted from Gourmet, April 2005


Makes 4 main-course servings.

Ingredients
1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings discarded
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup pesto (use any you have in your fridge, or a good variety from your grocer)*
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus optional additional for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

* Kitchen Goddess note: Most pesto recipes include nuts (often pine nuts or walnuts) and Parmigiano-Reggiano as thickeners. The cheese is also there for its umami flavor. In your choice of pesto, you should note whether it has Parmigiano already in the ingredients, and taste the pasta sauce before adding the cheese, as you may not want a full half cup. If you’re interested, the KG has a very nice recipe for pistou (that’s the French version) that contains no nuts. Click here for that recipe.

Directions
Before you begin, fill a medium-sized bowl half-full of ice and water, and set aside.

In a large pot of boiling salted water (about ¼ cup salt for 3 quarts water), cook the sugar snap peas for 2 minutes, then remove about half to the prepared bowl of ice water in order to stop the cooking. Continue cooking the remaining sugar snaps for another 2-2½ minutes, until tender, then use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer them to the bowl of your food processor or blender.

Return the cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, remove the portion of sugar snap peas from the ice water bath, and cut them crosswise into ½-inch pieces. Set them aside until the pasta is done.

To the sugar snaps in your food processor or blender, add the pesto and process until not quite smooth. Add the cream and process briefly, just to mix.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the empty cooking pot. Over low heat, toss the hot pasta with the sugar snap sauce and, if necessary, add enough of the ½ cup of saved cooking water to thin the sauce to desired consistency. (I added only a tablespoon or two.) Add the sliced sugar snaps and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with fruit or a green salad.




Saturday, February 2, 2019

I’m Rooting for the Blue and Gold Team

 What’s cooking? Sheet-Pan Salmon with Miso and Maple Syrup



When my two sons were living at home, Sunday afternoons were often devoted to watching
football. As a native Texan, I usually rooted for the Cowboys if they were playing – a practice that inevitably was a source of derision from the men in my family, who were all die-hard Steelers fans. If neither of our teams were playing, I almost always favored the team with the better looking uniforms – another reason for hooting from the male gallery.

The fact is that I don’t really like football, which I think I’ve mentioned to you before. That doesn’t stop me from going to the football-watching parties. Especially the Super Bowl parties, to which I invariably take my famous roll-out cookies. I make only stars, and decorate them in the colors of the teams who are playing. I love the challenge: How many different designs can I deliver given only 2-4 colors?

Patriots... again. These were for 2018, against...

But I’m getting a little weary of the Patriots’ success. I’ve iced and sprinkled my way through way too many red/navy/silver color schemes.

... the Eagles.
And before that, against the Falcons in 2017.
While I enjoyed decorating for the Eagles (midnight green/silver/black/charcoal) last year, my favorite year so far was 2014, when the Broncos (navy/orange) played the Seahawks (navy/gray/neon green). I don't have photos of 2014, but those were some fun colors – especially that neon green. And I long for the Dolphins (aqua/blue/orange) or maybe the Jaguars (black/teal/two shades of gold) to show up in the Super Bowl. Gimme some help, fellas!

I like the Broncos' colors. These were from 2016, against...
... the Panthers.

In the meantime, this year, I have to be content with the Rams’ decision to wear bright blue and yellow – a tribute to their win against the Titans in 2000, and a little more fun than their traditional navy, gold and white. And I’ll dream about a day in the far future when we have a Super Bowl whose participants are chosen on the basis of their uniform colors.

* * *

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve written, I haven’t stopped cooking. No sirree. And today I have a real treat for you. I’d call it a sheet pan dinner, but it really needs rice. Because you don’t want to leave any of that unbelievable marinade in the pan – you will want it on the plate and in your mouth. Let me just say that the leftovers engendered a small lunchtime skirmish the next day between me and my prince.

You’ll notice I also didn’t call this Salmon with Asparagus. That’s because it really makes almost no difference whether you use asparagus or green beans (which is what the author of this recipe used in The New York Times) or broccolini or broccoli. The Kitchen Goddess had asparagus, so by god that's what she cooked. The secret to this dish is the miso.

It comes in a big container, but it keeps 1-2 years in the fridge.
 Toss if moss/mold develop.
Kitchen Goddess note: Miso is a paste made mostly from fermenting soybeans. It’s a traditional Japanese seasoning with lots of uses, from sauces to pickling to soup base. High in protein, rich in vitamins and minerals, and gluten-free for those of you who care, miso is a culinary staple in both traditional and modern Japanese cooking, and these days, it’s become a star in the culinary firmament.

The most common flavor categories are white, red, and “mixed,” with the white miso being somewhat mellower or milder in flavor than the red. But all have an amazing impact on a dish, increasing the complexity of the flavors. Through the fermentation process, miso is a chief source of umami, one of the five basic tastes in addition to sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.

Try this: Take a couple of teaspoons of miso paste in a mug, dissolve it into a slurry with a tiny bit of warm water, add a cup of not-quite-boiling water and a nice squeeze of lime, and you have a terrific broth to drink as a pick-me-up between meals or a light addition to your lunch. The taste is mysterious – sweet, salty, nutty, mellow – and all from some fermented soybeans.



Sheet-Pan Salmon with Miso and Maple Syrup

Adapted from Colu Henry in The New York Times.

In the classic coffee-cream-sugar combination, the fat (cream) evens out the bitterness of the coffee and the sweetness of the sugar to produce a flavor combination that’s popular around the world. Similarly, in this recipe, the fattiness of the salmon evens out the flavors between the various components of the marinade: the rice wine vinegar (bitter), the maple syrup (sweet), and the soy sauce (salty). But the kicker is the miso, which adds a big dose of umami.

As I said, you need rice, though I expect egg noodles would also work. Once you start the rice, the rest of the dinner can be ready by the time the rice is done. It’s that fast.

Serves 4.

Ingredients
4  (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets, about 1-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (a.k.a. rice vinegar)
4 teaspoons soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely grated (use a rasp grater)
1½ pounds asparagus (or a pound of green beans), trimmed
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a pinch of red-pepper flakes)
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Garnish: ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro, using both leaves and tender stems
4 lime wedges, for serving

Cooked white rice, for serving

Directions
Line one or two sheet pans with baker’s parchment or aluminum foil. Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the fish in a bowl or glass baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the maple syrup, miso, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. Mix well, and pour over the salmon. With your fingertips, gently massage the marinade all over the fish. Let the fish marinate while the oven comes to temperature.

Preheat your oven to 400º.

In a large bowl, toss the asparagus (or whatever green veggie you chose) with the olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and sesame oil. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

When the oven has reached 400º, lay the salmon fillets skin-side down on the prepared sheet pans and scatter the asparagus (or other veggies) between and around the fillets. Spoon the remaining marinade over the fish.

Baked salmon and asparagus, before the final burst from the broiler. These fillets were 3 ounces each.

Bake the salmon and veggies for 12-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. When the salmon is nearly done, raise the oven temperature to broil and leave the pans another 1-2 minutes to lightly caramelize the glaze on the fish.

And after two minutes under the broiler.

Serve with white rice, lime wedges, and a scattering of cilantro.