Friday, January 30, 2015

Big game? Big nachos!

The Seahawks are the closest thing I've ever had to a hometown team, and I'm really excited for Sunday's game! Even if the Seahawks weren't playing, I'd still be excited because of the importance placed on snacking. In our house, sports snacking means fancy nachos, with emphasis on tasty toppings and plenty of cheese. You know what's sad? Naked tortilla chips and a pile of chipless toppings at the bottom of the pan.

Friends, I'm happy to introduce a game-changer: Tostada nachos. Using tostada shells is faster, easier, and more efficient than using tortilla chips. No more Tetrising of the chips to fully line a pan. No more losing valuable toppings through the cracks of tortilla chips. No more wrangling 18 chips in order to get enough toppings!
Action shot!
Here's how the magic happens:
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Lay out six or seven tostada shells.
3. Go crazy with toppings! (For Josh's birthday here, I used black beans, pickled jalepenos, red onions, frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe's, banana peppers, green onions, and cheddar and pepperjack cheeses. Some of those toppings came straight off of the Whole Food's salad bar. Look at that belly--this pregnant lady limited her time standing and chopping.)
4. Do another layer of chips & toppings.
5. Bake at 350 until the cheese is melty--usually about 15 minutes.
6. Serve with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, radishes, cilantro...

Don't worry--this is before the second cheese layer. I'm not that cruel.

Now tell me: What's your favorite nacho topping or nacho hack?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Current Favorite Things - January 2015

I've been away from here for a while. I've been spending most of my days in a baby-bliss-filled haze, and it has been lovely. I start work Monday, and am hoping to get into a better routine of work, cooking, and snuggling. My hope for my writing is that I publish more often, but perhaps shorter posts. It can get daunting to have a big, involved idea or recipe floating around in my head, and then I try to say something interesting about pizza dough. Sometimes I just want to tell you that it's great dough and you should try it if you're looking to make a pizza.
One of my favorite things: Huge cedar trees in our backyard. This is the morning view from our guest bedroom.

So I've been thinking about a few things that I've been appreciating and loving lately, and I want to tell you about them.

In the Kitchen
  • Frozen chopped onions. Bags of these are about a dollar each, and are so convenient for quick dishes--scrambles, guacamole, veggies & rice, etc. I usually only use a quarter of a cup at time, and I'm already stockpiling bags in our deep freezer.
  • Taylor Farms Kale Chopped Salad. You all probably know that I'm a huge kale trash-talker. It's always too bitter and too tough, and I always regret trying to eat it. Well, trash-talker no more! I picked up a bag of this on sale last week to serve with butternut squash risotto, and I went back the next day to get more. It's the best kale I've ever had. I think the real secret is to dress it and let it stand for 20 minutes, which seems to tenderize the kale. (The salad also has Brussels sprouts, but even if you normally hate raw sprouts AND kale [like former me], you should give this salad a try. Really.)
  • The simple salad: spring greens, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, avocado, Parmesan, and balsamic vinaigrette. Our neighbor Jackie brought this salad to our house a few weeks ago, along with her adorable baby who's eight days older than Baby KJ! We loved the salad so much that night that we just keep making it. Thank you, Jackie!
On Your TV & Computer
  • The Great British Bake-Off (PBS) is my favorite reality show of all time. I love the transparency of the show; it's clear that the bakers have been preparing for each episode and practicing specific recipes just for the competition. There aren't any villains, and no one's "not here to make friends." It's just people who love to bake doing their thing. Bonus points: I've finally learned how to pronounce things like "marscarspone", "tuilles", and "compote". 
  • PicMonkey is my favorite site for editing photos. It's free, although the $30/year upgrade to unlock all the features is definitely worth it. It's easy, intuitive, and the tutorials are wonderful. The site's tone is also pretty cheeky, which I love. I fancied up a picture for our Christmas card and edited our wedding photos for a collage with PicMonkey. I'd love to try their recipe card tutorial next.
  • I met Tricia of A Couple of Dashes on a food tour (more about that in my next post). Tricia blogs frequently about all things fitness--motivation, food, gear, humor, nutrition--she does it all, and with a great upbeat attitude. If you are always signed up for a race or have a separate dresser for your workout clothes, her blog is for you.
  • My partner in crime who also did the food tour with me is my friend Tania of HashtagEat. Tania is a spectacular cook, amazing photographer, and the sweetest friend. Her food styling is also getting really good, so check out her blog for tasty dinner ideas or local Seattle dining hot spots.
I hope I'll find you back again here soon. I'm going to try harder! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nectarine Crisp with Streusel Topping

I'm barely sneaking this one in before the last days of this summer's nectarines, but I couldn't let this year go by without sharing this with you. Lately, chocolate hasn't been as alluring to me as usual, so when nectarines called to me from the grocery bin, I hopped on board. It was the perfect end to our new patio set's maiden voyage that night; two weeks later, I made it again. I'll probably make it again next weekend, too.

This recipe follows my ideal equation--easy preparation = big payoff. It's everything that I think a crisp should be. The fruit filling is simple and plain, and the streusel topping really makes it--it forms a crust kind of like an oatmeal nut cookie. I hope the idea of that kind of cookie, together with summer fruit and a dollop of vanilla ice cream, is enough to make you rush toward the nearest nectarine bin. Let me know how it turns out.

Nectarine Crisp with Streusel Topping
Adapted from "How To Cook Everything"

Fruit filling
6 cups of sliced nectarines (about two pounds)
Juice of half a lemon (about 1.5 tbsp)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar

Streusel Topping
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or your favorite nut)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. rolled oats (not instant oats)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the fruit filling ingredients together and spread in a well-buttered 1.5-quart baking dish. (An 8-inch square or 9-inch round works. I used an oval Corning Ware dish,)

Cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer, food processor, or fork. Stir or pulse in the remaining ingredients until combined and crumbly; it won't hold together like a dough. (You can refrigerate or freeze until about 30 minutes before you're ready to use it. Defrost if necessary, then use.)

Crumble the mixture over the crisp. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the fruit is tender and bubbling. Let stand for a few minutes, then serve with ice cream!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Before Pinterest, I was forced to clip recipes from magazines, newspapers, or to print them off from the internet like some sort of barbarian. I have an envelope of "to make" recipes stashed away for rainy days or a culinary staycation. I so rarely get to them nowadays--our current favorites are on standard rotation, and now that it's summer, I most often turn to easy salads and sandwiches.

The recipe is vintage Epicurious, published in 2000. The ratings are very high, and the recipe is full of wonderful things, so I'm not sure why it took me nearly fifteen years to move this to my "Tried & True" file. I suppose things like "Heath bar pieces" and "one pound of chocolate" always seemed too fussy (I know, I'm cringing even now at my foolishness), so I'd turn to my easy yogurt cocoa cookies. I am ashamed. I missed out on years of these cookies. Learn from my mistakes, friends! For extra good karma, share your batch with your favorite pregnant lady. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or a glass or metal bowl set on a saucepan) set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and cool the mixture to lukewarm.

Using your trusty electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes, then beat in the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients mixture, then the toffee and nuts. Chill the batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by mounds of two tablespoons onto sheets, spacing them 2.5 inches apart. (I used a cookie dough scoop, with excellent results.) Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes. Cool sheets on wire racks.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pan-Seared Scallops with Fancy Sauce

I thought this looked too highfalutin for a post, but I put this on Facebook and immediately had two requests for the recipe, so here we are!

This dish does look fancy, but the work-to-payoff ratio is just the way I like it: Simple and easy preparation = a stunning meal. I threw two sweet potatoes in the oven, started the sauce, threw broccoli in the oven, then cooked the scallops. I knocked my own socks off with only about 30 minutes of actual work for all four things--scallops, sauce, and two veggies. Easy! (But still fancy!)

Pan-Seared Scallops with Champagne Butter Sauce (Beurre Blanc)
Serves 2

For the scallops
1 pound sea scallops
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

For the beurre blanc

7 tablespoons (nearly one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 large shallot, minced
1 cup champagne or other dry sparkling wine (go cheap here)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and season lightly with salt and pepper; stir and cook until translucent, about 1 minute. Add champagne and vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, or until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. Over very low heat, whisk in the remaining butter one piece at a time, fully incorporating each piece before adding next. (Don't let it boil--the sauce will separate!) When all of the butter is incorporated, stir in the chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, and cook the scallops.

Place scallops on a large plate lined with a couple of paper towels. Blot the tops gently with another paper towels. Let them sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (I used a stainless steel fry pan) over high heat until just smoking. Add scallops in single layer, flat-side down, and cook, without moving, until well browned, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add butter to skillet. Gently flip scallops; continue to cook until sides of scallops are firm and centers are opaque, 30 to 90 seconds longer.

Spoon sauce over scallops to warm very briefly, about 15 seconds, then serve, adjusting seasoning to taste. Bask in your dinner guests' adoration.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Did Santa Bring You Stretchy Pants?

Our Christmas dinner this year wasn't very traditional, but it was delicious. It was just the two of us--newlyweds! in our first house!--so there wasn't much pressure to spend all day churning out dish after dish. We just went for one cozy, delicious dish: eggplant parmesan!

Before 2006, I'd really only had eggplant parmesan at Olive Garden. (Small Southern towns aren't known for great Italian family restaurants.) Then I moved to the DC area and met my friend Jeff, who pretty much nailed Italian comfort food (and chocolate chip cookies, but that's another post) and who was nice enough to invite us over for home-cooked meals. He fed Josh and I eggplant parmesan almost four years ago, and we still talk about it. Making friends with Jeff was an excellent move; wearing stretchy pants to his place for dinner was genius.

By nature, this is a rich dish. But after a month of Christmas treats in the atmosphere and four days at my parents' house, stocked with the usual parade of sweets...well, stretchy pants can only stretch so far. I consulted my favorite guilt-proof cookbook for some tricks on making the dish a little that I could still eat dessert. (My carryon was packed with two kinds of cake, pecan turtles, peanut butter balls, and fudge. I had work to do.) The biggest difference came from baking the eggplant instead of frying, but other small tweaks helped too.

Eggplant isn't something I unequivocally love. Too often, it's bland and boring; at the worst, it's limp and squishy. Eggplant needs a bit of finagling to make it really shine--salting, draining, and pressing slices does the trick. Dredging only one side in flour, egg whites, and then toasted panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs--they're crustless) with parmesan keeps the slices from getting limp and squishy. Problem solved! And with room for fudge, even in the pants that are begging for mercy.

Notes on this recipe

  • If you don't have panko, use three cups of regular breadcrumbs. They'll shrink as they toast.
  • Although the recipe calls for homemade tomato sauce, I've found that jarred tomato sauce with basil and garlic works really well. (I like Newman's Own fire-roasted tomato and garlic sauce.)
Eggplant Parmesan
Adapted from The Best Light Recipe | Serves 6

For the sauce
Two 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
For the eggplant
2 eggplants (about 1 pound each), ends trimmed, sliced into 1/3-inch-thick rounds
Vegetable oil spray
1 ½ cups panko (see note above)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
3 large egg whites
1 tablespoon water
8 ounces reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the eggplant: Toss half of the eggplant with 1/2 teaspoon salt, then place in a large colander set over a bowl or in the sink. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and 1/2 teaspoon more salt, and transfer to the colander with the first batch. Let the eggplant sit for 30 minutes to drain, while you make the sauce. (Or fold laundry and watch Bravo, if you chose the Paul Newman option above.)

For the sauce: Pulse the tomatoes, with their juice, in a food processor until mostly smooth. Cook the ­garlic, tomato paste, oil, and pepper flakes (if using) in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste begins to brown, about two minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside until needed.

Prep your dredging ingredients: Combine the panko and oil in a 12-inch skillet, and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until golden, about 10 minutes. Spread the panko in a shallow dish and let cool slightly, then stir in the parmesan. In a second shallow dish, whisk the flour, garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together. In a third shallow dish, whisk the egg whites and water together. (I use a small Pyrex baking dish for the panko and two wide, low pasta bowls for the flour and egg whites.)

Now back to that eggplant: Spread the eggplant over several layers of paper towels or clean tea towels. Firmly press the tops of the eggplant dry with more towels, really squishing out extra liquid. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 475 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Season the eggplant with pepper. Lightly dredge one side of each eggplant slice in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Dip the floured side of the ­eggplant into the egg whites, then coat the same side with the panko, pressing to help the crumbs adhere. Lay the eggplant slices, breaded-side up, on the baking sheets in a single layer.

Lightly coat the top of the eggplant slices with vegetable oil spray. Bake until the tops are crisp and golden, about 30 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through.

It's layering time: Spray the bottom and sides of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish, then spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom. Position half of the eggplant slices, breaded-side up, on top of the sauce, overlapping the slices to fit. Distribute 1/2 cup more sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Layer in the remaining eggplant, breaded-side up, and dot with 1 cup more sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp; sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella.

Bake until bubbling and the cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the basil and serve, passing the remaining sauce separately.
Per serving: 425 cal.; 25 g pro.; 54 g carb.; 13 g fat (8 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 27 mg chol.; 985 mg sod.; 8 g fiber; 14 g sugar; 28 percent calories from fat.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Things

So Christmas is three days away, somehow. I always dream too big with crafty projects and ambitious decorating themes, and it always sneaks up on me. I didn't make those salt dough ornaments from Pinterest or the toffee I meant to send as gifts. I also meant to do a good job of sharing my favorite things that I recommend as gifts. A good job would have been posting this three weeks ago...maybe next year.

Rejoice, fellow procrastinators! There’s still time to get (or make) these gifts before Christmas though! You may have to get creative when it comes to wrapping a printout of a gift card or subscription. A few hints from my study of denial and deception: wrap in a series of boxes (like Russian nesting dolls) and include nonessential household objects that are heavy and that will make noise when the box is shaken. Jars of quarters, puzzles, and rocks are all good choices.
One of my goals is to work in googly eyes into every post.
For the busy woman who needs new clothes but hates shopping fruitlessly
My first favorite thing is a personal styling shipment from StitchFix. For $20, your lucky girl will receive a box of clothes and accessories personally picked out just for her. She’ll fill out a style assessment, give her sizes/proportions, rate a few collections of outfits, and can even link to a Pinterest board. She can leave comments--I asked for help with finding dresses with sleeves and got two adorable and perfect dresses. They’ll ship a box of items picked out for her (along with cute styling ideas for each item!), she decides what to keep, applying the $20 styling fee to anything she chooses to keep. If the stylist really knocked it out of the park and your girl wants to keep all the items, everything is 25% off the list price. (She also gets to pick how much she wants to spend on each type of item...maybe she likes cheap tops but designer jeans--they’ll match how she likes to spend.) 
My latest fix--a bundle of clothes and styling suggestions

For the gentleman who has everything he needs
Give him beautiful things he'll love. Bespoke Post is a subscription box for men, themed each month with cool artisan products. Themes have included poker night, dopp kits, and crisp autumn days. You can select a box for him, or give him a gift card and let him pick out his own themed box (or boxes, depending on how good he's been this year).
One of Bespoke Post's themed boxes
For the obsessive baker
Guys, a kitchen scale is where it’s at. Baking is all about precision, and this scale will ensure that your flour is perfectly measured so that your cakes don’t flop. This OXO one is backlit and has a pull-out display, which allows the baker to use a giant bowl.

For the scientist who wants to cook but needs fool-proof recipes for positive reinforcement
Cooks’ Illustrated Cookbook is amazing. America’s Test Kitchen is all about science, experimentation, and fine-tuning. Because they test each recipe multiple times in house and with home cooks (I’m a recipe tester for them), I know every dish is going to turn out well. They publish a lot of themed cookbooks (Best One-Pot Dishes, Best Light Recipes, etc.), but this one covers all of the basics and a lot of variation. It’s a wonderful reference cookbook too.

For the pretend Grinch
You know those people who would be just as happy not receiving anything, but whom you feel bad about excluding from present time just because they're a minimalist consumer? Find a cause they're passionate about--animals, children, research for a disease or illness--and make a donation in their name. A charity gets funded, the honoree is touched by your attention to their passions while their home remains uncluttered, and you get to give a heartfelt and generous gift. Nobody can be upset by that, not even someone whose heart is two sizes too small.

Feeling DIY-y?
Good for you! And you still have time! I made a ton of tiny jars of gifts and sent sets to close friends and family. I included salted caramel sauce, chocolate peppermint syrup, and citrus salts. This year, I upped my game and boiled and stirred the daylights out of a liter of maple syrup. . . which makes MAPLE CREAM. Here are the recipes I’ve used and love.

Stocking stuffers
Nivea lip balm: This is pretty much the best $3 you can spend on your lips. After three of my best friends and I finished pho one night, we each pulled out our own tube. You can find them at most drugstores or superstores.
Post-pho glam
Fish spatula: This kitchen superstar lifts cookies, flips steaks, and really shines when handling delicate foods--it’s perfect for frying green tomatoes. Oh, and it also flips fish really nicely. Honestly, if all of your kitchen stuff gets lost or stolen, buy yourself a cast iron skillet and a fish spatula and you’re pretty much set.

Vegetable peeler: Don’t laugh. Besides a fun design, it’s incredibly effective and comfortable. You and this veggie peeler will make very fast work of a butternut squash. That is all I really need to say.

I hope you're enjoying your holiday season as much as I am. I'm hoping that Santa brings me foresight and tenacity this year, so that next year I'll finally make those ornaments and toffee.

Full disclosure: None of these companies asked for my referral; I just genuinely think they're good gifts. However, if you use my StitchFix or Bespoke Post referral links above to make a purchase, I do get a credit. Merry Christmas to ME!