Thursday, September 5, 2019

Sunny Cookies for a Rainy Day

What’s cooking? Caramel-and-Potato Chip Cookies






It’s a gray day here in Jersey City. Only a couple of days past Labor Day, and it’s as if Mother Nature said to herself, “Well. That’s enough of summer.”  Overcast and intermittent drizzle all the day long. For those of us in the every-day-is-Saturday category, that makes it a great day for reading, relaxing, and indulging a bit.

I have just the thing for that indulgence, too. These cookies. And even though Labor Day is over, the gray days are not, so you might just have one any old time. I made the cookies on Saturday, as the finale to a dinner on the patio of our condo building. Turns out, the building has a couple of grills you can reserve – for an hour at a time – as well as the requisite tools. What a happy surprise for the Kitchen Goddess! Of course, I learned of this perk way too late in the season to make really good use of it, but now that it’s on my radar, next summer will be a whole new experience for my prince, who is the grillmeister.

Before we got married, he and I had both been living on our own. But once we’d tied the knot, we realized – okay, I realized – that with both of us working full-time, we needed a methodology for distributing domestic labor, if you know what I mean. So I developed a system based on the categories of inside vs outside. Inside was my domain; outside was his. So... cooking inside was my job; cooking outside was his. Garbage inside was my problem, but once it got to the kitchen door, it became his. Cars inside the house were my issue; cars outside were his. I took care of snow removal inside; he took care of it outside. You got the idea?

Which is how my hubby ended up as the grillmeister. And on Saturday, he and my older son grilled a delicious salmon fillet. (I’ll be posting it, but didn’t get around to the photos this time.) We served it with a sugar snap pea salad with buttermilk dressing (another dynamite recipe to come) and sweet potato fries. Dessert was vanilla ice cream and these cookies. What a combo: salty, sweet cookies with creamy, cold vanilla... whew! Even the grandchildren were impressed.



Caramel-and-Potato Chip Cookies

Adapted from The Vintage Baker (May 2018) , by Jessie Sheehan, as shown at epicurious.com

I don’t think I’d heard of the concept of including potato chips in a sweet dish, but with the caramel flavoring, it was a salted caramel treat in a form you could eat with your hands. Mmmm... The original recipe called for butterscotch chips, and you should feel free to use them instead of the caramel sauce. But I hit two grocery stores, and caramel sauce was the closest I could find. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t make a big difference.

To compensate for the difference between caramel (made with white sugar) and butterscotch (made with dark brown sugar), I substituted dark brown sugar for the original’s light brown sugar. Then I liked the results so much, I think I’ll just keep making them this way. You, of course, can make your own choice. I expect my dough was a bit more moist than the ones with butterscotch chips, but they baked up just fine, as you can see. And the caramel version might even produce a chewier, more evenly flavored cookie.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

2½ cups [325 grams] all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup (180 grams) caramel sauce
Two 5-ounce bags (5-6 cups) kettle-style potato chips

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350°. Line two rimmed half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. (Or sift them together into the bowl. Either way, the goal is to aerate the flour.) Set the dry ingredients aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until thick, light, and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add the egg and yolk, one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and caramel sauce, mixing well to combine.

Add the dry ingredients all at once, stirring carefully by hand to get the dry ingredients lightly moistened. (This is a large batch of dough, so if you turn the mixer on before getting the wet mixture at least sort of combined with the dry, you can end up with flour all over the place. Trust the Kitchen Goddess on this point.)

Take a minute to crush the potato chips. The Kitchen Goddess prefers to do that in the chip bag, cutting a small hole in the top of the bag to release the air inside. She then uses a glass measuring cup or a large-bottomed drinking glass or even a rolling pin to turn the chips into tiny pieces – most less than ½ inch square.

Once the dough is evenly mixed, add 3 cups (about 105 grams) of the potato chips to the dough, and run the mixer on low to combine well.

Pour the remaining crushed chips into a small bowl. Using a cookie scoop or measuring spoon, scoop the dough into blobs (the original recipe calls them balls, but only someone with a very loose definition of balls would find that term acceptable) equal to 1½ tablespoons, then roll each blob in the bowl of leftover crushed chips. Place the chip-encrusted blobs onto one of the prepared baking sheets. The cookies will spread, so don’t try to manage more than 12 to a sheet.

Photo alert: This is fake news -- I wanted to show you how large the cookies are so you don't try
to fit more than 12 on a half-sheet. So these didn't just come out of the oven, ok?

Bake 10-12 minutes, rotating at the halfway point, until lightly browned. Remove the pan from the oven and, using a large spatula, press gently down on each cookie to slightly flatten them. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then move them to a baking rack to firm up.

The Kitchen Goddess recommends filling one pan with dough blobs, then filling the second while the first is baking. That way, the first pan is then available for the final 12

blobs while the second pan is in the oven.

These cookies are swoon-worthy while they’re still warm, but still delicious – and reasonably moist – if kept in an airtight container on the counter for up to 3 days.

Kitchen Goddess note on using butterscotch chips instead of caramel sauce: If you like butterscotch better than caramel – or just want to try the other version – you’ll need to make the following adjustments:
● Use 1 cup (180 grams) butterscotch chips, and stir them into the dry ingredients at the beginning.
● Use light brown sugar instead of dark.
● Watch the baking time. The caramel sauce version – because it is so moist – needed to bake for about 12 minutes total. The butterscotch chip version will likely only need 9-10 minutes.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Tripping the Light Clam Chowder

What’s cooking? Rhode Island Clam Chowder





One of the few soups I associate with summer is clam chowder. That’s because the clams and other seafood I find at my favorite farmers’ market are so fresh and sweet tasting, the experience spoils me for the rest of the year. So I feast all summer on fresh clams and scallops, as well as the tuna, flounder, fluke, etc. I can get at that stand. Once I’m back in Texas, I focus on salmon, Gulf shrimp, and the other seafood from my local grocer. But I only buy clams and scallops from Jimmy.



The Kitchen Goddess loves a food expert, and Jim LaPrete, owner of Shore Catch, is the most knowledgeable guy I’ve met when it comes to seafood. He sells his fish fresh from the dock on Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore, and in his words, “The fish was swimming in the ocean two days before I get it to market.” Which means they stay fresh for way longer than whatever you get at a grocery store. (I can keep clams and scallops unfrozen – but in a cold part of the fridge – for a week, with no off effects.) He is ably assisted by Cindy, who is kind enough to store my order in the giant freezer so that I can go off to coffee without worrying about whether my fish will stay cold enough. A Kitchen Goddess’s BFF.

Clockwise from top left: swordfish, cod, squid, scallops.

Jimmy's clams and oysters. Yum!

Kitchen Goddess note about safety: My hubby occasionally worries about buying shellfish in the months without an “R.” That was the conventional wisdom in the days before rampant refrigeration and commercial fishing. Today, this warning applies only to oysters and shellfish you might harvest on your own. On modern commercial fishing boats, refrigeration is de rigeur; and commercial oyster farms employ scientific methods to control spawning, so that commercially sold oysters stay safe year-round.

In years past, the Kitchen Goddess has made all manner of seafood chowders. Tomatoey Beach Chowder made with canned chopped clams, chunky Salmon Chowder, and creamy Clam and Corn Chowder. This summer, she learned of a new variation, one that originated along the southern coast of Rhode Island, where it’s a local delicacy. What makes it different? No tomatoes, no cream. Just the clams, a few veggies, and a simple broth with some wine. As you know, the Goddess loves adding wine to a soup.

According to wikipedia, the term “chowder” has no clear etymology. One possible source is the French word chaudron, for “cauldron,” which was the type of cooking or heating vessel in which the first chowders were probably made. From the cauldrons of coastal France, the dish migrated to kitchens across the English Channel in Cornwall, and eventually to the U.S., where it has become ubiquitous in almost every coastal area east or west.

Writing about this version of chowder, Sam Sifton of The New York Times said, “Eating Rhode Island clam chowder recalls the feeling of pulling into Block Island after a long day at sea, tired and scented with salt spray.” The Kitchen Goddess has been to gorgeously rugged Block Island, and so can testify to the windy, salty atmosphere; but she’s not a boat person, so that “long day at sea” is not a familiar sensation. On the other hand, the KG will say that this light, clear-broth chowder seems like the truest version of the dish. It’s the seafood-lover’s clam chowder.



Rhode Island Clam Chowder

Adapted from Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats (seriouseats.com)

Serves 4.

Ingredients

2 pounds live littleneck clams*
Kosher salt
3 thick-cut slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 ounces)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups broth, to include one of these:
– 8 ounces bottled clam broth + 3 cups water + 2 teaspoons Knorr chicken bouillon powder, OR
– 8 ounces bottled clam broth + 3 cups good quality store-bought chicken stock, OR
– 4 cups water + 3 teaspoons Knorr chicken bouillon powder, OR
– 4 cups good quality store-bought chicken stock
2 medium sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
12 ounces small red potatoes, quartered, or medium-sized fingerling potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, choppped


*The Kitchen Goddess prefers littlenecks because they’re more tender, but it’s always acceptable to use cherrystone clams instead of littlenecks. Keep in mind that cherrystones are larger, so you need fewer, but they’ll take a bit more time to cook. You may want to roughly chop the cooked cherrystones before adding them to the finished soup. If you can’t get fresh clams in either size, try whole canned clams. Recommended brands include Bar Harbor, Cento, and Chicken of the Sea. Two cans should do it for this recipe. If you use canned clams, use bottled clam broth for at least half the broth.

Directions

Scrub the clams well under running water and place them in a large bowl with cold, salty water to cover for 20-30 minutes. After soaking the clams, lift them by hand out of the water – in order to avoid the sand which will likely have accumulated in the bottom of the bowl – and rinse. (See below for more elaborate instructions on buying/storing/preparing your clams.) Discard soaking water.


Add the olive oil to a large stew pot with the chopped bacon and cook the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes.

Stir in the wine, and bring it to a simmer, cooking about 4 minutes, or until any alcohol smell has cooked off. Add the stock mixture, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.

Gently ladle the clams into the simmering broth. Cover and return the broth to a simmer. Cook until the clams begin to open, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the clams to a large heatproof (glass, ceramic, or stainless) bowl once most of the clams have opened. (You can leave ones that haven’t opened in the broth a bit longer, to see if they’ll open, but do not use any that stay closed after 6-7 minutes. Cover the bowl while you finish the soup.



Add the potatoes to the broth and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. If you want, you may use this time to remove the clam meat from the shells and discard the shells. (The Kitchen Goddess doesn’t do that part – she likes the look of the shells in the serving bowl as well as that Popeye the Sailor feel she gets from scraping the clams out of the shells with her teeth. She’s funny that way.)

Serve the soup in bowls, along with the clams with/without shells. Garnish with parsley.

The Kitchen Goddess’s Guide to Buying/Storing Fresh Clams

Buy from a reputable seller. Best is to find someone who can tell you where the clams came from and when they were harvested. (By law, they have to be labeled when shipped out of state.)

Buy them alive. They should be closed, but if any are open slightly, give the shell a light tap; if the clam is still alive, it will shut immediately.

Store clams in a bowl with a damp towel or washcloth draped over them – in the coldest part of your fridge. NO water, NO plastic wrap – they need to breathe. Good fresh clams can keep this way in the coldest part of your fridge for 2-3 days. (I was told by a reputable fishmonger that they can keep fresh clams alive on ice for up to 2 weeks, but I’m not willing to try that for myself.)

Handle them properly. When you’re ready to cook them, scrub the outer shells under running water with a brush or plastic mesh scrubbing pad to remove residual sand. Then soak the clams in well-salted cold water for about 30 minutes – certainly less than an hour. This salt-water soak will encourage the clams to expel any sand inside. Then when you’re ready to add them to the pot, lift them out of the bowl using your hands to keep from disturbing the water, so that the sand the clams have expelled will remain in the bottom of the bowl.

Finally, don’t eat any clams that don’t open in the cooking process. Even in a restaurant.

KG Post Script: The KG is always finding little tidbits she wants to pass on. This time, it was in the final proofreading stage, so here goes... According to LEAFtv.com, clams  farm-raised or wild caught  are one of the best choices of seafood. (1) Among the sources of sea protein, clams have one of the lowest-known mercury levels. (2) Clams can be raised without polluting or damaging the environment, so they’re an ocean-friendly choice. And because clams are filter-feeders, they improve the quality of the water where they are farmed without compromising their quality.




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.