Holiday Favorites: Stay Sane, Go Nuts, Be Happy!

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Fluff up your marmots and break out all things sparkly, the holidays are here. This is the season for many things: fake fur, sequins, fizzy drinks, warm everything. This is not the season for experimentation. We’re keeping our heads above water here, which means sticking with what we know. tried and true meals that make us happy, and treats to give that make others happy.

Maple oat breakfast bread

With that in mind, in my own kitchen I’m revisiting whole lot of Bring It tried and trues. That means soups like Thai Coconut Corn Soup, or Sugar and Spice Squash Soup. And yep, that means a crock pot full of Chicken Taco Chili that feeds a crowd with about 6 minutes of prep. All of the above, of course, beg for People’s Choice Cornbread or No Knead Challah or a honkin’ slice of Maple Oat Breakfast Bread to dunk in there. That is, UNLESS dirt bread is your thing…you know who you are, you little hemp seed eating chia pets. I’m with you there.

You might be needing some holiday entertaining staples like pomegranate everything (along with a genius pomegranate wrangling technique). What’s winter without fondue, and the easiest in the world Guinness Fondue at that? And what’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” without snacks? I highly recommend a batch of Nootch Popcorn or a bowl of Hail Mary Coconut.

As far as gifting and hostess offerings, you will never go wrong with crackle and its intriguing, slightly sophisticated dark cousin, pretzel and beer Crackle 2.0. And cookies? Yeah we’ve got those, basics like my faves—champion chip cookies—as well as totally slacker kiss my crust cookies, made from refrigerated pie crust and whatever chocolates you have around. If you need to scare up a snowstorm, or a reason to start a sweet family tradition make up a snow ghost pie.

Snow Ghost pie ad

And lest this be a pure re-hash of deliciousness we have an actual new recipe. I realize this blog has a somewhat extensive nut treatment, including honey thyme walnuts, spicy rosemary maple walnuts and an entire holiday nut anthology. But it turns out you really do need one more way to make roasted almonds. These are very similar to ginger glazed almonds (see anthology above), but without the ginger and with a coating of sesame seeds. You can choose a mix of sweeteners for your preferred flavor dimension (honey and sesame were pretty much born for each other), but for the best texture and glaze use at least some brown sugar.  

We’re talking nuts here, not rocket science, so be bold and mess around with flavorings, spices, herbs, types of nuts etc. Above all, enjoy the madness of the season and, like James says, remember “Shower the people you love with love.”

Sesame Almonds

Makes 3 1/2 cups almonds

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (or sub out up to 2 tablespoons with honey or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or your healthy oil of choice)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 pound raw almonds (a scant 3 ½ cups)
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) white sesame seeds

Method:

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet and 2 wire cooling racks with parchment paper and set aside.

Pour the almonds into a mixing bowl. (If you keep your nuts in the freezer, warm them up in the oven for a few minutes first). In the microwave or on the stovetop stir together the brown sugar/honey/syrup, oil, salt, paprika, and vinegar over low heat. Pour mixture over the almonds and toss until the almonds are thoroughly coated. Transfer the almonds to the prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer.

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until the almonds are brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes total. They should be a rich brown color and just start to smell toasted as you open the oven door.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the hot almonds and stir to evenly distribute the seeds. This is where I go a little overboard, and try to get as many sesame seeds as possible to coat the almonds. Divide the nuts between the 2 prepared cooling racks and use a spatula to spread the nuts out so they do not touch. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Break apart any nut clusters that are stuck together if needed.

Bringing It:

Pour these babies into a treat bag, jar, tin or a cardboard takeout container lined with festive tissue paper, and store them in the fridge until you are ready to give them or devour them.

 

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Aquafaba Mayo: Magic for the Leftover Feast

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Let the sandwich building begin!

Yum. The work and the stress are over. All that remains are the leftovers. Well Hallelujah to that! The Holy Grail of the Leftover Kingdom is the turkey sandwich. It can be a straight up turkey affair, a turkey salad mixture or an elaborate layering of turkey, stuffing and cranberry. Any way you slice it, however, an essential element for many of us is the dollop of mayo.

Alas, mayo can turn an otherwise healthy meal into an irresponsible feeling indulgence. That is, until you discover aquafaba mayo. We’ve dabbled in aquafaba here before, and in the sheer wackiness of using the liquid from a can of chickpeas as an egg substitute. I mean, who knew?  This iteration tastes great, and can be made even more delicious by blending in fresh herbs or by cutting it with ABC Summer Sauce

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Baby steps…first, make this heart-healthy mayo if you’re feeling experimental or impressing the Vegans in your midst. You can roast the chickpeas or use them in party time hummus for your weekend festivities. Then, start enjoying those leftovers—even this Vegan pumpkin pie— with a little extra glow in your halo. Happy Black Friday all. I hope you’re enjoying it in whatever way makes you smile!

Aquafaba Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • 115-ounce can of chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • ¾ cup sunflower oil *

*Safflower and other neutral oils work also, but avoid using olive oil. It gives it a weird taste.

Method

  1. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the bean liquid. Save chickpeas for another use. Measure out 1/4 cup of the bean liquid (aquafaba) in a large glass measuring cup. Add vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice and dry mustard.
  2. Using an immersion blender (or a really good regular blender), mix until combined. With the blender running, very slowly drizzle in the oil in a thin stream. It should take 4 to 5 minutes to add all of the oil. The mixture will emulsify and thicken.

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Heart of Darkness Chocolate Cups

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Come to the dark side, for the good of your heart and soul.

I hit the food stash jackpot, when Sister A rolled into town with a carry-on full of Trader Joes nuts. I already had a decent stash of raw walnuts and almonds, but she brought in the exotics: pecans, pistachios, pepitas, cashews, macadamias. My pre-holiday ship had come in!

This happy event coincided with the other fortunate circumstance of having a lot of really good dark chocolate on hand. It’s not a huge leap to imagine what happened next. Yes my friends, I had a Reese’s ah-ha moment. Maybe I could make a slightly more mainstream yet totally healthy version of Reese’s Redemption Cups.

The revelation here is homemade nut butter, ever-so-gently spiced up, but not sweetened…and dark chocolate…and a pixie dust sprinkling of flaky salt, but only if you dare. Dark chocolate is just plain better for you than a whole lot of un-fun things, and when the health police serve up an opening like this you run through it!

The below list of directions is daunting, but basically you are doing this: Making nut butter by roasting raw nuts and whirring them in a food processor with cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Then you are melting chocolate, pouring a bit in the bottom of lined mini muffin cups, adding a blob of nut butter then spooning more chocolate on top of the whole shebang. With that vision, read on bravely, and know that you will end up with something delicious no matter what it looks like.

Don’t over think this one. Just make up a bunch when you’re feeling it, and enjoy them as needed. You will not regret having this stash on hand.

Heart of Darkness Chocolate Cups

Adapted from betterwithcake

Makes 14-16 mini cups of joy

First, you’ve got to make your nut butter. See below. From there it’s just a matter of melting chocolate. Again, whatever darned chocolate you feel like. The darker the chocolate, the higher percentage the cocoa, so the slower it will melt and the more temperamental it will be to work with. If you’re going way dark, add some coconut oil. You can also use vegetable oil, but it will thin the chocolate more and you will have fallen off the superfood wagon. Don’t worry. You won’t be lonely there.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup or so of homemade, chocolate hazelnut almond butter (or store bought chocolate hazelnut butter if you must. The texture will be gooier)
  • 1 bag (10-12 oz) good quality dark-as-you-dare chocolate chips, Vegan if needed.
  • 2-3 tsp coconut oil (optional, but it makes your life easier)
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Optional toppings of choice: toasted shredded coconut, finely chopped toasted nuts, dried fruit, crushed peppermints, leftover candy corn, etc, etc, etc. 

Method:

Line a mini muffin tin with 16 paper or silicone liners.

Melt chocolate, with coconut if you are using, by your preferred method. I do mine in a small, retro double boiler over simmering water. If you are among the tens of millions of people with a working microwave, you can try that method.

Use a teaspoon to drizzle some melted chocolate into each the muffin liner. Don’t use all your chocolate; save at least 1/3 of it to spread on top once your chocolate cups are filled. Adjust the number of cups you make accordingly.

(At this point, if you are making big cups (not mini), or if you going for perfection, put them into the freezer for a few minutes to set up. If using mini ones, you’re good to keep going.)

Drop a very scant (ideally a slightly flattened oval) teaspoonful of your nut butter into each cup (if you went pro and froze the first layer then go ahead and press down on the nut butter to level it).

Once all your cups are filled with the nut butter, use your designated chocolate spoon to cover the filling with the rest of the melted chocolate. Give the cups a sprinkle of salt and/or your garnish of choice and place them into the fridge to set, or the freezer to store longer term. They will keep in the fridge for several weeks and in the freezer for 3-6 months. Riiiiiiight.

Chocolate Hazelnut Almond Butter

The not very perfect but oh so delicious cross-section

~Vegan, Dairy Free, Paleo Friendly, Shazaam!

The beauty of this nut butter is that it’s easy, and the spices add cha-cha without any sweeteners. I go with cocoa and cinnamon but you can do a chai spiced one with cardamom, or a chile spiced one. Get creative and dream big here people. Once you’ve got the nut butter made you are totally set up for success.
Makes approx 2 cups of pretty darned healthy chocolate-hazelnut almond butter. This is way more than you need for a bag of melted chocolate chips, so you’ll be enjoying this on apples and toast, in smoothies and sandwiches, etc.

Ingredients –

  • 1 cup of raw almonds
  • 1 cup of raw skinless hazelnuts* (or use all almonds or sub hazelnuts with raw cashews or macadamias)
  • 1 Tablespoon of vanilla bean extract
  • 1 Tablespoon of cocoa (or cacao if you’re fancy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt flakes

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350

Line a large baking sheet with baking/parchment paper (or a non stick silpat mat) and pour your raw nuts on, making sure they are spread evenly and not crowded.

Roast your nuts for 10 mins, until lightly roasted and slightly golden.

If you are unable to get skinless hazelnuts you’ve got an extra step here. roast them on a separate tray and once they are roasted, place on a clean dry hand towel and fold it in half. Rub it gently between your hands and the skins should come loose. Once the hazelnuts have shed their skins, discard the skins and proceed with the recipe as normal.

Pour your roasted almonds and hazelnuts into the bowl of your food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy (or your desired consistency). It takes a minute or two to transform from ground nuts to creamy butter. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally as you go.

Once you’ve gotten the desired consistency, add the salt, cocoa (or cacao, whatev) and vanilla then process until combined.

Taste and adjust flavors accordingly – this is where you make you’re personal statement, adding extra salt or vanilla or maple syrup or whatever floats your boat. You can also lube it with a bit of coconut oil if you like.

Scrape that deliciousness into an air-tight jar and keep it in the
fridge for several weeks.

Bringing it:

My suggestion here is to keep a stash of this nut butter at the ready, and then, whenever you have a window of time and some extra chocolate lying around, make up some of these. With a stash of them in the freezer you are never without a healthy dessert, a peace offering, a hostess gift or just a little love bomb of chocolate.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bringing It With Heart: Peacemaking Pepitas

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Bringing on the love, and healthy debate.

You can’t please all the people all the time. This is true when it comes to food, and especially when it comes to what people consider “healthy” food. For various reasons, I’ve been flirting lately with both Vegan and Whole 30 ways of eating.

For those of you oblivious to food trends, Vegans avoid all food that comes from something with a face—meat, fish and all dairy, including eggs. The most vigilant Vegans also avoid honey, to protest the enslavement of bees. Whole 30 basically lines up with the Paleos, who embrace “high quality” protein, and especially animal protein. They make the sign of the cross to all grains, beans, processed foods and soy, which means tofu, tempeh, seitan and the like. Paleos blame life’s ills on inflammation, which come from the body trying to deal with sugar, a whole lot of which comes from grains. Vegans embrace grains and beans because without all that Verboten animal protein they get darned hungry.

Vegans are among the most creative eaters, making cheese from nuts, milk from hemp and mayo from chickpeas. The paleos get crafty points too, making pancakes without flour, oatmeal without oats and pizza crust from cauliflower. Martha points for all! Vegans get smug when the topics of obesity and high cholesterol come up; Paleos get smug when the Vegans look wan and tired; and the topic of bacon will polarize a mixed crowd faster than you can say Trump. All of this explains the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, which cuts right down the middle. Mediterranean eaters sit back and watch the show, enjoying a little bit of everything. They snack on olives, guiltlessly savor their dark chocolate and red wine and think, “Ah, yes. Life is moderately good!”

We had a recent health scare in our house, which prompted a close look at nutrition. People showed up bearing delicious, heart-healthy meals, as well as plenty of dark chocolate. It reminded me of how much I love our community and inspired me to tweak Bring It towards the healthier end of the spectrum. Like many of our friends, we lead pretty healthy lives, but there’s always room for improvement.

As discussed above, “healthy” means different things to different people; but, we’ve all got to try to get along in this world, especially at the table, and especially while we striving towards our own healthy, realistic, sustainable way of eating. Most of us just want good, healthy food that won’t break the bank, or take all day and an advance culinary degree to prepare. Fortunately, there are a few things on which all zealots agree, and I like to picture them as overlapping areas of a Venn diagram. The overlapping area of foods to avoid or seriously limit includes sugar, processed foods and, sadly, cheese. The overlapping area of acceptable foods includes greens, colorful veggies and roots, nuts, avocados, fruit (more or less) and coconut in its many forms. So we’ve got a starting point for common ground.

Of course, there will be many things that are beyond the universal overlap of all “healthy” diets. There are also times when you just have to go off the reservation. I’ll point you to those recipes with gusto, even if I’m not making them myself for a while. Case in point are these bronzies that a friend brought over recently. They totally raise the dessert bar, and WILL make you MVG (Most Valuable Guest).

For today, we’re keeping it simple and healthy: Pepitas roasted with sweet/salty coconut aminos. Coconut aminos are soy- and wheat-free, and while they are still a form of sodium, it’s less than straight up salt (a Tablespoon of coconut aminos has 300 mg sodium, the same as in 1/8 tsp salt). Even better, the Paleos turn a blind eye to the main ingredient, coconut sap, which sure sounds like a form of sugar to me. Shhhh! Let’s just enjoy this.

These pepitas are great sprinkled on salad, soup (like this one!) or roasted vegetables or as a snack any time of day.

Peacemaking Pepitas

Tweak the amounts up and down, but for best results don’t crowd your baking sheet. 1½ cups of nuts at a time per sheet is about the max.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw pepitas
  • 1 Tbsp coconut aminos (or more if you’re feeling it)
  • ½ -1 tsp chili powder (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour pepitas on the parchment lined sheet, drizzle with aminos and stir them around to coat. Sprinkle with chili powder if using.

Bake for 10 minutes. Stir and check them for doneness. Return to over for 5 more minutes.

Let cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container (they get soggy otherwise).

Bringing it:

Warp ’em up! These make an excellent hostess gift or contribution to any feast.

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Drunken Fig Jam: Where fresh figs go to party

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Fig Jamming New England style, with cheddar of course

How did I make it through life this far without ever canning? Why did I start now? Two fine questions. My two fine answers are fresh figs and fresh corn. They’re only around for a bit and they are so darned good.

Let’s start with figs. This recipe come from Treas, out in Cali, head chef at Granite Chief Command Central. Her recipe, which she shared with me after two years of my passive yet unremitting coersion, says that fig season is only in August. This handy guide to all things fig, gives us a larger window. According to google, there is a short season in early summer and then a longer season in late summer/fall. Either way, fresh figs are not around forever, and once you buy them you’ve got to use them fast. We should have a few more weeks at least, and cognac is always in season, so we’re good there. 

A little heads up to you non-canners out there. You need a big pot, you need to know that when you fill it too full with water and then put your jars in, your stove may have a hazardous overflow situation. You can only use canning lids once, which is why that whole mysterious section of parts in the grocery store exists. I guess that’s about it. I was going to get into racks for the bottom of your pot, but this recipe doesn’t call for one, so let’s run with the “ignorance is bliss” theory.

Another small cautionary note: When you are heading out to book group for three hours it’s best to turn the burner under your boiling fig jam OFF.  Next up? Corn relish to give Stonewall Kitchen a run for their money…and a new stockpot.

Fancying up a fall salad

Drunken Fig Jam

Recipe and action shots from Treas Manning
Makes 6 1/2 pint jars

Ingredients

• 2 lemons
• 4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed,
cut into 1/2-inch pieces (use food scale for accuracy)
• 4 cups sugar
• 3/4 cup brandy or Cognac
• 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Method:

Using a vegetable peeler, slice peel from lemons (try to avoid as much as the white part as possible) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips. Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens (30 to 35 minutes), and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally use a hand blender to puree the mixture. It’s fine if there are small bits of lemon peel and fig, but I do like the bits to be minimal. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

Notes: At high altitude over 5500 feet, process the jars for 15 minutes.

Drunken Fig Jam is yummy:

  • on a toasted baguette with a slice of melted Irish Cheddar, and a walnut on top.
  • on crusty bread with fresh burratta or mozzarella
  • on a grilled bone in pork chop, or on slices of pork tenderloin
  • on whole wheat toast topped with a strip of bacon for breakfast.
  • with cheese, sliced pears and walnuts on a groovy pizza

Bringing It and Giving It:

Makes a darned nice Christmas gift, especially canned in a Ball and Mason squatty wide mouth jar

 

 

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ZUKES! Zucchini Bruschetta and More Green Ideas

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Summer’s Surplus, all fancied up and ready for company.

It’s that time of year when it’s perfectly ok to eat fresh corn every day, tomatoes appear at every meal, and zucchini magically appear on your doorstep. I’m NOT complaining about the zucchini bounty, especially now that I have my “as seen on TV” spiralizer (a brilliant gizmo everyone should own), but using it up does present a challenge.

You could go the zucchini bread route, but if you’re not in the baking mood or you’re not in to cranking up that oven on a hot summer day, here are some alternatives. First, is a brilliant zucchini bruschetta. I have long suspected that Martha Stewart cuts her recipes to fit the page, leaving out a step or an ingredient here and there. On the positive side, it cuts out the micromanaging of how to make your toasts. If you need a bruschetta clinic, I’ve got you covered. And if you need other ideas on what to put on them, try Funitella Bruschetta, Sicilian Caponata , this creamy crunchy pickled fig extravaganza or sooooo many more things. As for missing ingredients, the only thing Martha missed in this case was a squeeze of fresh lemon. The fact that she left off the fancy fresh herb chiffonades is just a pure gift to humanity.

Zucchini Bruschetta

Ever so gently adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July/August 2015. It’s a good thing, Martha. I promise. 

Pro move of the day: salting the zucchini before cooking it draws out water, eliminating sogginess.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice (not sure how Martha missed this!)
  • Toasted baguette slices
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
  • thinly sliced or grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Method

  1. Shred zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. (You should have about 4 cups.) Toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a colander set over a bowl. Let stand 10 minutes. Squeeze out excess moisture with your hands.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add shallot; cook 1 minute. Add zucchini; cook until tender and golden, 5 minutes. Stir in red-pepper flakes; Squeeze fresh lemon over the whole shebang and season with salt and pepper. Serve atop baguette slices, drizzled with olive oil, if you must.

Double Zuke Roll-Ups

For the adventuresome (and truly zucchini laden) among you…Out of desperation for a suitable appetizer, I fell upon a brilliant way to put zucchini inside of zucchini. It seems a little cannibalistic, or like a vegetarian version of a turducken. But it all works and it’s tasty. It also uses pesto—preferably with fresh mint thrown in—to address other surpluses in your fridge or garden. Garnish with tomatoes because, well, August tomatoes. I am quite sure this would taste fabulous with some fresh corn stirred in. Yes go ahead try that! Blueberries? Easy now, let’s draw the line right there.

There are no amounts here because we’re using what we’ve got, right? Any leftovers are going into the spiralizer for a zoodle future.

Ingredients:

  • Whole zucchini, preferably on the larger side
  • Your favorite pesto. This Vegan one was darned good, but pick your fave and sub or add some mint for bonus points
  • Zucchini from zucchini bruschetta (see above)
  • Balsamic glaze (if you’re fancy, and I know you are)

Method:

Chop off the end of the zucchini and thinly slice into strips. Use either a mandoline (easiest), or bear down hard with a vegetable peeler. Spread some pesto on each strip, and then layer on some of the shredded zucchini mixture. Leave a little space at the end of each strip for a tidy closure. Roll up that bad boy and secure it with a toothpick. When you have all your roll ups on the plate, drizzle with balsamic glaze, if using, just before serving. You can also drizzle some oil on these and bake them to serve with the main meal. 

Do you have a favorite zucchini recipe? Or ten? Please let me know!

This picture right here is why you use balsamic GLAZE vs straight balsamic. Live and learn…

 

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Best of Summer Simmer Chicken

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Summer’s best dressed chicken…nekkid and fresh

Let’s be honest here about grilling and entertaining. Food that is hot off the grill is fantastic for everyone but the host, who is typically tied to said grill. If you really want to relax, it’s all about food that can be cooked long and slow with minimal effort and is very, very hard to mess up. Bonus points if it is good as leftovers. Some dishes that come to mind are crock pot pulled pork or carnitas and the king daddy of all picnic food: Chicken Marbella.

Ok, so maybe not pretty. But pretty tasty, which counts.

In case you have never met Chicken Marbella trust me when I say it is magical. It’s a Mediterranean classic, that even the most Mediterranean-averse eaters still love. That’s the magic. The only downside of Chicken Marbella is the long marinating time, and the longish list of ingredients.

With that in mind, this recipe is darned near perfect. It involves chicken that falls off the bone, and as much fresh basil tomatoes as you can handle. Even better, it takes easy to an impressively idiot-proof level. Any recipe that includes “throw” and “chuck” in the instructions has a place in my heart. With this recipe, and the supply of fresh corn coming your way, you’ve got summer dinners for any size crowd handled. While you’re figuring out what to do with your spare time, whir up a batch of ABC Summer Sauce to have on hand for the leftover chicken, veggies, pizzas, sandwiches, etc. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made it this summer, and it always gets raves.

Special slacker note: In three tries I have been foiled by bad pictures with this dish, but that hasn’t stopped me before. Honestly, though, a dish that makes even raw chicken looks somewhat pretty deserves some respect. Here’s hoping you get to step away from the grill and enjoy your summer evenings while they last!

Summer Simmer Chicken

AKA Jamie Oliver’s Tender and Sweet Chicken Legs with Sweet Basil and Tomatoes

From  Food52

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 higher-welfare chicken leg quarters
  • Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 big bunch fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
  • 2 big handfuls red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes and ripe plum or beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes halved, plum tomatoes quartered
  • 1 whole bulb garlic, broken into cloves (less works too)
  • 1 fresh red chile, finely chopped, or a big pinch of dried chile flakes
  • Olive oil
  • One 14.5-ounce/410 g can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed (optional)*
  • 2 handfuls new potatoes, scrubbed (optional)*

* I’m all for keeping it simple without the beans and potatoes, but if you need to extend the feeding power this is a great way to do it.

Method:

  1. Heat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Season your chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper and put them into a snug-fitting pan in one layer, skin side up. Throw in all the basil leaves and stalks, then chuck in your tomatoes. Scatter the garlic cloves into the pan with the chopped chile and drizzle over some olive oil. Mix around a bit, pushing the tomatoes underneath. Place in the oven, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours, turning any of the exposed tomatoes halfway through, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat is falling off the bone. If after an hour or so the skin isn’t crisping to your liking, you can turn up the heat and switch to convection, or just blast it under the broiler for a bit at the end, rotating the pan occasionally and watching closely, until you get the skin as brown as you like. Just don’t let the sauce simmer too vigorously or the meat might toughen up.
  2. If you fancy, you can add some drained cannelini beans or some sliced new potatoes to the pan along with the chicken. Or you can serve the chicken with some simple mashed potato. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins before serving. You could even make it part of a pasta dish—remove the chicken meat from the bone and shred it, then toss into a bowl of linguini or spaghetti and serve at once.

 

 

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Okey Poke: Watermelon Poke Bowls

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All the Fixin’s for a Poke Feast

At about this time, in the height of summer, we might as well throw up our hands and say, “It’s all about watermelon!” Seriously, between watermelon rosemary lemonade, watermelon salad, watermelon gazpacho and the soon-to-be shared watermelon jalapeño margaritas, I am hard pressed to get really excited about any other ingredient. But, like mama said, you must eat your veggies. And your protein. And your condiments (summer is condiment season after all).

This brings me to the poke bowl (say po-kay unless you want to horrify foodies and make Californians smirk). Poke originated as a thing in Hawaii, where fisherman needed a tasty way to use the trimmed scraps of freshly caught tuna. Bonus points for being able to serve it all out of a cooler. They did this by marinating it, putting it over sticky rice and then dressing it up with whatever condiments felt right. Intrigued by the sheer magnitude of food combining possibilities in one dish, I set out in search of my perfect poke match. I’m a huge fan of fresh raw tuna, as long as it is procured, prepared and paid for by someone else. When I saw watermelon poke taking over the Internet, I knew I’d met my destiny.

Watermelon poke, where watermelon stands in for tuna, is often made with raw watermelon which is quickly marinated. It is fine but bears little resemblance in taste or texture to tuna, and the perkiness drains right out of the watermelon after serving time. This version, adapted from Bon Appetit—in which the watermelon is marinated, cooked, then chilled until ready to be used—produces watermelon that is strangely similar in taste, texture and appearance to tuna. This not only gives you an easy, storable for days, cheap alternative to tuna, but it also makes the Vegans (not to mention the tuna) happy. Ba-da-bing! We have a winner!

As with any new type of food, the process can seem daunting at first. I promise, however, that it is low skill and effort/ high return. Here is what you’re doing:

  • Dicing the watermelon, and putting it in a simple marinade, ideally overnight.
  • Cooking that entire mixture down for 30 minutes then chilling it. At this point, or after the next step, it can chill in the fridge for up to a few days.
  • Tossing the cooked, cooled watermelon with sliced sweet and green onions, sesame seeds and soy sauce. Chill until needed (see above)
  • Cooking up a batch of sushi rice with some honey and vinegar. This can be served hot or made ahead and served cold.
  • Assembling your universe of your favorite fresh toppings, sauces and condiments.

Poke bowls are built around the upside of prep. Set up your basic elements and you can throw them together anytime, anywhere. They use what you have, what you love and what is fresh and available. They are the perfect cultural marriage of all your favorite things and a fully customizable feast.

With so many topping choices it is hard to decide what actual recipes to include here in your watermelon poke primer. For me, and for my very satisfied (and patient) extended family, the key components are the watermelon, the sushi rice and a few key condiments. The toppings are where you make this your own, and change it up based on mood, dietary constraints, availability, etc. My must haves among these are: pickled ginger for zing, avocado for creaminess, toasted peanuts or sesame seeds for crunch; scallions, chives or some such representative from the onion family to keep your taste buds honest.  

Sauces? Homemade are awesome, but sometimes enough is enough. Store bought faves can be as good or better.

And now, for the main event. Make a batch of the watermelon poke and store it in the fridge for poke bowls as needed. Bring it chilled, along with your cooked rice and an array of condiments to make a poke bowl bar for a party or picnic. This right here, my friends, will rocket you straight to the Bring It All Star Zone.

Watermelon Poke Bowl with a creamy sesame sriracha sauce.

Watermelon Poke Bowls

Mostly from justthefood.com 

  • Watermelon Poke (recipe below)
  • Sweet sushi rice (recipe below)
  • Diced cubed fresh vegetables
  • Savory sauces, crunchy toppings and condiments

The Watermelon Poke

Don’t fear cooking the watermelon. It will not disintegrate, but will assume the look and texture of raw tuna. Trust the process that will transform your watermelon from sweet to savory and into a weirdly awesome, Vegan-friendly science project.

For the marinated watermelon

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 pounds cubed red seedless watermelon (about 6 cups), cut it into small cubes no larger than ½-inch. The consistent, smallish dice is key.

Method:

Mix together marinade in a shallow dish with a lid, or a re-sealable plastic bag.
Add watermelon and refrigerate for at least one hour, but it’s even better if you can do it overnight. Transfer marinated watermelon to a pan with a lid.
Cook covered on medium high heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the lid and continue cooking for about 10 minutes more, or until deep red and translucent and most of the liquid has been absorbed. If you have a really juicy watermelon, you can drain off any excess liquid.
 Chill until ready to serve.

For the Poke

  • 1 recipe marinated watermelon
  • 1 cup julienne cut Maui Onions
  • 1 cup chopped green onion
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce

Add all ingredients to a bowl and toss to coat. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

The Sweet Sticky Rice

This sweet rice makes a perfect base to serve under your Poke. Use an Ice Cream Scoop for perfectly shaped balls of rice.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups short grain arborio or sushi rice, rinsed
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons honey or agave
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Method:

Mix all ingredients together in the bowl of your rice cooker and follow the directions on your rice cooker. If you do not have a rice cooker, bring salt and water to a boil in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Stir in remaining ingredients. Return to a low simmer, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until water has been absorbed. 

The Condiments

Here’s a list of options to get you started:

  • Pickled ginger
  • Cubed avocado
  • Cubed mango
  • Cubed cucumber
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Thinly sliced scallions
  • Chopped chives
  • Fried shallots
  • Dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • sprouts and/or seeds
  • Cilantro or mint
  • Ponzu or shoyu sauce
  • Furikake (now that you’ve got it from your popcorn adventure)

Assembling the Poke Bowls

Mound a scoop of rice in a bowl (not on an plate—that’s just the way it’s got to be).

Top with a scoop of watermelon poke. Top it off with your favorite condiments, then add a drizzle of your favorite sauce(s). You know what to do!

 

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Furikake Fireworks Popcorn

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Weird as hell? Yes. Delicious? Yes, yes and more yes!!!

Weird food on the weekend. It’s a thing. Ok, maybe it’s not a thing, but it’s a thing this weekend if you make this. Spoiler alert: you won’t be sorry! You will, however, have to get a few things you might not have in your pantry. And you will have to suspend your disbelief that this bizarre mix of ingredients can combine to make a snack that is not only edible but also addictive.

Now for a little background. I’ve been meaning to make this ever since I saw it on Joy the Baker nearly three years ago, but I got stuck at Furikake—both the pronunciation and the procurement. As for pronunciation, say Foo-ree-kah-kay, and you are close enough. Say furry cocky and you are either a teenage boy or an adult who can’t help yourself. You know who you are.   

As for procurement, Furikake must be having its moment because the day I finally broke down and got it on Amazon, I found it at our awesome Coop. Only later did I discover that there are several flavors of furikake. Mine from the Coop was yasai fumi— “vegetable” flavor.” The yet-to-be used one from Amazon—Nori Komi—is seaweed flavor. Scary? A little.

Honestly, even harder to find than Furikake were the Corn Pops. Props to the Coop for taking the high road and not carrying Corn Pops, but in this case it sure would have helped. I considered buying two packs of mini cereals at the mini mart just to cobble together the cup of Corn Pops but dang—that’s a lot of surplus Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks.

On to the recipe. You’re going to cook up some bacon—good and crispy like you mean it. You’re going to chop it up fine. You’re going to make your own kettle corn—in your Whirly Pop, your big covered pot or your cracked Mickey Mouse popcorn maker. You’re going to brown some butter. Then you’re going to marry it all together with some additional weirdness including chopped up dried pineapple, corn pops and the precious furikake. And you’re not going to substitute anything for anything, because Joy said not to. After seeing this popcorn disappear with both kids and adults, I trust her on this.

So here you go. I hope this brings you and your people joy and weirdness this weekend.  

Roy Choi’s Furikake Kettle Corn

Ingredients

For the Kettle Corn

  • 3 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • salt to taste

For the Mix

  • 4 heaping cups kettle corn
  • 1 cup Corn Pops (the cold cereal)
  • 2 tablespoons furikake, plus more for topping if desired
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped dried pineapple
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped crisp bacon
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and browned
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives

Instructions

  1. To make the kettle corn, in a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (or your weapon of choice), heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the corn kernels and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place the lid over the pan, keeping the lid slightly ajar. 
  2. Allow popcorn to begin popping. Once or twice, cover the pan completely, and use pot holders to lift the pan and shake it. When popping slows, remove from heat and sprinkle lightly with salt. Shake into a large bowl. 
  3. Add Corn Pops, furikake, red pepper flakes, pinch of cayenne, diced pineapple, and diced bacon. Drizzle the melted butter over the mixture and toss to combine. Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with more furikake and minced chives. 
  4. Serve and enjoy! 

Bringing it: 

Shovel that good stuff right into a ziplock bag and take it where you will. I’m talking to you hikers, road trippers, party hoppers, fireworks watchers, Drive In goers…

 

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Loosey Brucey’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

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From the rhubarb patch to the kitchen, with a little magic and a whole lot of forgiveness.

If you need exact recipes, do not read any further, because this recipe will irk you. If you can tolerate significant looseness with your dessert creations, read on.

Today we have strawberry rhubarb crisp, because if you don’t have a rhubarb patch, somebody you know probably does and it is time to take it down!

This one comes from Pierce’s Inn, more specifically from innkeeper Bruce Lingelbach’s head as he guides pinch-hitter food preppers in the kitchen. His instructions range in specificity based on food type and his degree of recipe ownership. They fall on the spectrum of extremely loose (fruit crisps you can’t possibly screw up), to highly specific yet humorously delivered (7 millimeter thick slices and the spread must completely cover the toast), to intentionally vague as when he is guarding a secret recipe (don’t mess with Bruce’s chili).

I love this recipe because, along with being seasonal and delicious, it is among the loosest, with easy to remember, even proportions that can be grown and shrunk without higher math skills. If there is any wavering on amounts, Bruce will shrug and say, “Who ever complained about too many strawberries? …or maple syrup/crumb topping, etc. The crumb topping would work with whatever berries or softish fruit you have on hand, and the process could not be easier. It’s all about filling a dish with fresh berries, pouring molten rhubarb over it, then topping it all with your crisp mixture and baking it. Best of all, it requires no more than a baking dish and a pot.

This recipe is really more about process than exact amounts or baking time. The amounts here are good for a big 9” x 13” baking dish, and you can adjust according to the size of your dish. (Up it to 2 sticks butter, 2 cups of all else. Downsize it to 1 stick butter, 1 cup of all else. You’ve got this!) The recipe, like Bruce, is mighty forgiving, and also lends itself to special diets. Use gluten free oats and flour mix for the GF’s, and Vegan butter sticks for the Vs. No special diets? Then go for it and toss in some chopped walnuts or almonds.

The only place I freelanced on this was by adding a bit of salt to the crisp and a hefty squeeze of lemon to the cooked rhubarb because, “who ever complained about a dash of salt or fresh squeezed lemon?”

Pierce’s Inn Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Ingredients:

For the fruit:

  • 2 pounds strawberries
  • A whole lot of rhubarb (5 stalks or more) cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Big slug of maple syrup
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Juice from half a lemon (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the topping:

  • 1 ½ sticks (12 Tbsp) butter, melted or very soft (Pierce’s uses only Kate’s Sea Salted. See Bruce’s comment below)
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups oats
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt (optional)
  • roughly chopped nuts of choice (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut the rhubarb into one-inch pieces, put into a pot with sugar and maple syrup. Give it all a stir and turn it on medium high so it gets bubbling along. Let it cook for 20 minutes or so, until rhubarb falls apart when stirred. Give it a taste for sweetness and add some sugar or syrup if desired.

Meanwhile, quarter the strawberries directly into baking dish. When rhubarb is done, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and lemon juice. Pour molten rhubarb over the berries and give it all a stir.

In the rhubarb pot you have rinsed or wiped out, melt the butter and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Distribute evenly across the fruit and bake.

Of course there is no exact time, but give it a solid 30 minutes before checking. It should look, well, awesome— golden brown on top with sweet red lava of goodness bubbling up. Let cool a bit before serving. If made ahead, gently rewarm before serving.

Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream…because whoever complained about too much of that?

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