Friday, February 8, 2013

Wonderful Spanish Chorizo

Spicy Chorizo and Potato Casserole

Wonderful Spanish Chorizo

Bacon is my favorite pork, but a close second is chorizo. Spicy, smoky, and full of flavor, this tender delight packs the right punch in a potato casserole. Indian is my favorite ethnic food. I like the spicy combination of cardamom and red pepper in a good lamb biryani or the creamy punch of a nice dhal. Although chorizo doesn’t have the same combination of flavors, nor the heat to allow me to “see through time” as Lisa Simpson put it so aptly in the episode “Homer and Apu”, anything with the distinct sausage is a close second for me.

Chorizo is made from pork and garlic and gets its spice from wonderful smoked paprika. I can’t get enough of smoked paprika. It’s supposed to aid your digestion. And we all know how good garlic is for you, so maybe chorizo can be considered a health food. That’s what I kept thinking after each bite of the wonderful chorizo-potato casserole I had for dinner last night. My kids thought it was too spicy, but that’s okay because it just means more for me. And since potatoes are gluten free, maybe this is a perfectly healthy breakfast or dinner treat.

Happy (spicy) Cooking!

Spicy Chorizo and Potato Casserole

 4 large baking potatoes, sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup grated manchego cheese
6 chorizo sausages

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Layer the potatoes and onions in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Pour the tomatoes on top. Sprinkle on the spices. Sprinkle the flour on top. Pour the broth over all. Sprinkle the cheese on top. Lay the chorizo on top. (We only had four when we made our casserole, but it really needs six.) Cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour or until the potatoes are soft. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking. What this really needed was a couple cut-up roasted poblanos. Maybe next time.  Makes 6 servings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sweet Vegan

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies-- photo by Julie Hasson

As the holidays approach and the gym sounds less and less tempting, I'm thinking of ways to indulge without paying a price. (And aren't we all?) Recently I was reminded of how much I love vegan baking-- and why you should too!

  • Pantry staples only. How many times have you been thwarted by forgetting to set out butter and cream cheese to come to room temperature? Or realizing that your heavy cream has become something... somewhat less desirable after suffering neglect in the fridge? By and large, vegan baking relies on flours, sweeteners, and liquids that are basic pantry staples: pastry flours, brown and granulated sugars, and non-dairy milks that you can keep in the pantry until opening. It couldn't be easier.

  • Allergy-friendly. So many friends' children are allergic or otherwise avoid nuts, dairy, eggs, and other common allergy-triggering foods. Vegan recipes almost always fit the bill for a treat that can be enjoyed by all. Trying to substitute other ingredients for eggs and dairy in conventional recipes can lead to disaster if you're not 1) skilled in the art of pastry or 2) patient, and willing to try a few batches to get it right. Vegan recipes are built for success using leavening agents like baking powder and binders like agar and chia: completely natural, not-scary plant-based foods. And you can buy them anywhere!

  • Healthy and delicious. Vegan eats are always cholesterol-free. If that's not exciting, consider it from this angle: chocolate, vanilla beans, fruits, and caramelized flavors taste more intense when they're not competing with heavy fats for top billing.

I won't go totally vegan anytime soon, but that won't stop me from playing for the other side as I bake my way through a particularly exciting vegan manuscript this winter. If you're looking for some plant-based inspiration, follow some of these skilled vegan cooks for great recipes: Fran CostiganJulie Hasson, Robin Asbell, and so many more!

May your ovens bake evenly,

Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Choose to DIY

Creamy Homemade Ricotta from Homemade with Love, out spring 2013

How to Choose to DIY
I’ve had my head in a particular book for a few months now, and it’s given me a good amount of food for thought on the lifestyle of making staples from scratch. (Though the subject of this post is elsewhere, let me take this moment to tell you: you need this book! Happily, it’s available for preorder now.) 

Lucky dog that I am, I am usually swimming in high-quality food writing during all waking hours. Authors and colleagues are shouting the Homemade Gospel from the rooftops: on making ricotta (pictured), nut butters, fruit preserves of all stripes, ketchup, Ro-Tel tomatoes, sodas, veggie burgers, beans, booze, pickles, baked goods, pizza, doggie food, cereal, Cheez crackers, chocolate truffles, and—the list goes on. It’s enough to make your grocery list look inadequate.

As a food enthusiast, Renaissance cook, Little House-loving amateur farm gal, urban gourmet, how do you bring scratch food into rotation? You know the rotation I mean: not the one-offs, the annual projects for gifts or saving the season, but the Wednesday nights, the Monday morning breakfasts, the mid-winter grocery lists. How do you start these scratch habits without becoming overwhelmed?

For me, taste is a big factor: the effort is well worth the payoff. Salad dressings, sauces, most (but not all) breads, jams and marmalades, and granola are made with love with my two hands because I like my results better than those on the shelf. They’re fast, and they’re satisfying.
Outside of our gotta-have-‘em weekly necessities, I prioritize by fun. Cooking should be fun! I make limoncello every year or so because I love the way the house smells after zesting dozens of lemons. I love making cranberry ketchups and Nutella for the sheer novelty of the ultimate dipping companion. Does that mean I make all my beverages, or eschew the whole condiment aisle? Nay, it does not.

If there’s anything is a distressing byproduct of great food writing, it’s a discouraged home cook. I live to make a difference for the home cook! Home cooking is not some kind of yardstick against which we all are judged and found wanting. (Amen?) These food writers with big scratch-cooking ideas: they’re cheering you on.

So do what you can. Do what works for your life, and come back to try more new things another time. They’ll keep. Pile your plate with good whole foods, serve a bakery’s French bread and a good friend’s herbed butter and call it good. Season to taste with hot sauce—you can even use the Rooster brand, because you can always try your hand at a homemade version later. Enjoy. Savor. The best cooks will tell you that they’re constantly evolving, depending what matters then. And when you want to indulge in making mustard, kombucha, strawberry wine, or sourdough baguettes, do it for pure joy, because cooking from the ground up is a pleasure unlike any other pleasure.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Reduction Seduction

                                                             Reduction Seduction

A few years ago, for Valentine’s Day, I attempted to impress my girlfriend with a three course culinary tour de force. Beginning with goat cheese, tapenade, and tomato tartines and concluding with a chocolate, cherry cheesecake, I knew she would be at least impressed. (Prior to this endeavor, my most noteworthy creation was garlic-bacon, which I discovered at age twelve; I would not recommend it.) However, my pièce de résistance was a veal roast stuffed with figs, covered in a balsamic reduction, and sprinkled with parsley. After a day of prepping, cooking, forgetting ingredients, running to the store, and continuing to cook, everything miraculously came out unscathed. The tartines were moist, the cheesecake was fluffy, and the veal was pink. Whew! I expected to be left holding a smoking pan and suggesting pizza.

While I’ve never made veal again, I have tried several recipes with a balsamic reduction—my favorite was a sweetened reduction with vanilla ice cream—which were all a fiasco. Unlike a lot of cooking, which can be improved by improvisation and intuition, the reduction is all about accuracy and timing. If you remove it from heat too soon, the syrup will be bitter and runny, and if you leave it on too long, it’s like glue. (If it’s on far too long, you’ll end up with a balsamic caramelized pan.) My recommendation is 3-5 minutes, depending on the amount. You want it thick enough to retain heat, and remain a liquid, but not so much as to become caramel-like after it’s drizzled. This typically means the amount in the pan is reduced to a little less than half of the original.

Image via  here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tasty Food is Pretty Food...and Other Thoughts (& Suggestions!)

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be part of my friends’ 10-year wedding anniversary celebration at the renowned Talula’s Table.  The reservations were made more than a year in advance, and we were served an eight-course Extravaganza (with a capital “E”!) of a meal.  Pictured above is one of the courses.  Can’t quite remember the details, but I believe it was a pea soup with a scoop of whitefish.  I showcase this dish not because I plan to share the recipe, or tell you about the nutritional benefits of pea soup and flaked fish.   I’ll spare you . But my experience at Talula’s reminded me of the importance of presentation.  The food was delicious, to be sure, but what truly inspired our “oohs” and “aahs” was when each course was placed in front of us, and we spent a few moments just admiring the look of each dish (and, as you can tell, snapping a blurry pic with an iphone!).  But just look how the bright green contrasts with the red tomato—and all against the simple backdrop of a white plate.  Stunning!
Alas, the art of presentation often gets lost when we serve ourselves at home.  But there’s really no need to lower your standards just because a waiter won’t be giving you a check at the end of the meal.  The truth is, when we take the trouble to make our food look better, and serve it better, it tastes better.   It just does.  And an everyday weekday dinner (even eaten in front of the TV, shhh...) can still have a touch of the gourmet when you follow some of these suggestions:
1.       If you’re lucky enough to have good china (either inherited from your grandmother or acquired by way of a wedding), by all means, get it out of storage and use it!  What are you waiting for?  I absolutely adore my Wedgewood India place settings (I have 12!), and I try to use it at least once a week. 
2.       Don’t be shy about pairing more casual plates with your “good” stuff.  My simple fiestaware-ish plates I got from Crate & Barrel look eclectically charming when paired with the Wedgewood.  If you’re concerned about appearing too stuffy when serving your friends and family with fine china, then dressing it down with the cheaper stuff can make it look less intimidating (kind of like wearing fine cashmere with jeans).
3.       At the risk of sounding prim, I’m just going to come out and say it:  please, get yourself some cloth napkins.  Paper napkins (or, god forbid, paper towels) are okay in a pinch (I guess), but it’s really so much nicer (and more environmentally-friendly) to use cloth. 
4.       Same with paper or plastic cups—just don’t do it!  Any drink (even tap water) tastes much more refreshing when you drink it from the right glassware.   And I promise that that under- $10 white wine that you have chilling in the fridge will taste like you spent $20 when you pour it in a proper wine glass.  And no, I’m not talking fine crystal—a $2 IKEA wine glass works just fine.  
5.       Even if you’re heating up a Lean Cuisine for dinner, get it out of its plastic dish it came with, and put it on a plate/bowl.  You can even pretend that you made it yourself.
6.       Accidentally made a monochromatic meal?  (for example, is that mushrooms-with-pasta concoction looking a little too beige-y?).  Parsley can spruce up most meals—an inexpensive solution to curing the culinary “blahs”.
Happy Pretty-Plating,


Monday, July 23, 2012


Lamb burger with tzatziki, green salad, and barley salad
After a weekend of lazing by a campfire in the great outdoors, everything tastes better. The need to eat is urgent, pressing, now! Hunks of watermelon are like Technicolor to the senses, and a meal consisting wholly of grilled corn is no hardship. And grilled meats—oh, the burgers! Let’s linger here, and consider the humble burger. A basic ground beef burger with a slice of melted cheese is nothing to sneer at. But a burger can be made from almost anything, not just meat: lightly mashed beans, shredded zucchini, or one of my personal favorite iterations, a combination of ground meat and cooked grains. First thing you must know: grains like bulgur, barley, quinoa, or millet keep the burger light and juicy. The grains hold in cooking juices and create an airy structure. Additionally, it stretches a pricey meat further. It helps as you're mentally transitioning to buying organic, hormone-free meats (“happy” meats, as we like to call them) to feed 5 to 6 generously with just a pound of meat. (A great cookbook on the subject is Almost Meatless, available wherever books are sold.)
This weekend a package of ground lamb ensnared my husband with its siren song. A fairly hefty purchase comes with no small responsibility: we had to do it right. We settled on a grain-heavy burger, which yielded about 7-8 patties. (Note that we were still affected by Camping Appetite, so on a normal day wouldn’t have eaten, ahem, almost two servings each.) After a few minutes over a charcoal fire, those burgers became one of the best meals we’ve eaten this summer. In our minds we were somewhere in the mountains: a little dusty from a long hike, comfortably weary, and sated with fresh air and good food.
Lamb and Barley Patties
Adapted from How to Cook Everything iPhone App, by Mark Bittman
1 medium onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
1 pound ground lamb
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 egg
1½ cups barley, cooked until just tender, drained
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Prepare a charcoal fire, with coals in the middle under the cooking grate. (Ordinarily I’d be perfectly amenable to a pan-frying alternative, but the flames make such a difference that I order you to fire up a grill.)
Take the onion and garlic for a spin in the food processor to evenly chop. Add the lamb, salt and pepper to taste, cayenne, cumin, and egg, and pulse until combined. Turn it out into a large bowl and stir in the barley and parsley. Form loose patties with your hands. Lightly salt and pepper the patties for good measure.
Grill over the hottest part of the fire until lightly charred on the outsides and cooked throughout, turning carefully with tongs. Serve with grilled corn, tzatziki, and a green salad.

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Monday, July 9, 2012


From mid-May to early October, I’m a frozen food addict. Ice cream, sorbet, popsicles, frozen watermelon—during heat waves like we had this weekend, I could subsist (and have in past lives) entirely on coconut popsicles without a second thought. (When, for instance, one’s salary as a young wee thing makes air conditioning a luxury out of reach, replacing solid food with popsicles is an adequate solution. Consult your physician before attempting this non-medically supported diet plan.)

Now I’m fortunate to have an ice cream maker, which gets a lot of use during the warmer months. It’s not in the holy trinity of useful appliances (mixer, food processor, immersion blender), but it’s close. My beef with homemade ice cream, other than its somewhat questionable nutritional value, is the cooling time for a thickened base. If you make a traditional custard with eggs, the time it takes to cool from 170° to between 40 and 45°, the optimal churning temp, can seem interminable when the outdoor temperatures are almost as high as the custard’s. Even a sorbet made with simple syrup needs a goodly amount of chill-time.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve experimented with a quick-and-dirty no-heat ice cream base. You can use granulated sugar, maple syrup, or (best) an infused simple syrup that you’ve made in advance. Freezing your fruit helps, too. Purée everything in a blender, strain it through a sieve if you’re feeling fussy, and then churn immediately. Now, you should know that this kind of ice cream is best on the day it’s made. Leftover, it can be too icy: it doesn’t have adequate binding properties to hold up for long in the freezer. But the potential flavors are almost endless: it’s easily made dairy-free, and with so little time spent in prep, you can make a new flavor every day. So far I’ve made two kinds of blueberry—which is a great fruit to try, since it has a lot of natural pectin. The pectin keeps the ice cream smooth and thick without any additional thickeners. I’ve also used cucumbers instead of fruit for a cucumber-mint spin: highly recommended as the final note of a steamy day.

Here’s a basic formula for 1 1/2 quarts:
1 cup chopped fruit, frozen if possible
3 cups milk (I use So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk for some vegan guests, but 2% cow’s milk is great too)
1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar or simple syrup, to taste (for the cucumber-mint variety, see recipe below)
1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt (optional)
Blend together with a blender or immersion blender until smooth. Strain through a sieve, and pour immediately into an ice cream maker. Churn until frozen according to manufacturer’s directions.

Cucumber-Mint Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup warm water
Skin peelings from 1 unwaxed cucumber
Handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat. When the sugar dissolves and the syrup begins to burble, reduce the heat and let it thicken for 2 to 3 minutes. When the syrup is thicker and somewhat slow-moving in the pan, add the cucumber peelings and mint. Stir, and let infuse off the heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and cool completely. This is an excellent addition to iced tea or cocktails.
Stay cool out there,
image via here

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