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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Summer Perfection Watermelon Tomato Feta Salad

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Cool, juicy, crunchy, sweet, savory, tangy. Oh watermelon salad you have it all!

I had a feeling that Memorial Day weekend would deliver. It did in the form of this watermelon salad. Quite simply, you need this in your summer life. I’ve seen watermelon feta salads aplenty but for some reason have never made them. Perhaps too many failed attempts at grilling watermelon “steaks” killed my ambition to bridge the sweet/salty gap with watermelon.

But thanks to Jenny—who not only brought this salad to a party, but also preemptively tracked me down to deliver the recipe because she heard from so many people that I wanted it—here it is! Thank you to Jenny for saving me so much anxiety and sticky kitchen experimentation.

Looking through the notes on the original recipe there are all kinds of variations. While I applaud the will to experiment, for me, if it ain’t broke…After all, it’s only early June. We have all summer to try it with lime juice instead of vinegar, to saute the sliced almonds in a little butter first, or maybe to add some jalapenos or spice. But then again, maybe not. It may be as close to perfection as I can bear.

This recipe does make a ton, so adjust amounts accordingly if that concerns you. A platter of this salad atop arugula looks pretty darned impressive. Made as directed, the watermelon chunks, are big, which seems a little odd. But that also makes it a knife and fork salad, which is somehow more satisfying.

Summer Perfection Watermelon Tomato Feta Salad

From Epicurious

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 cups 1 1/4-inch chunks seedless watermelon (about 6 pounds)
  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes (preferably heirloom) in assorted colors, cored, cut into 1 1/4-inch chunks (about 6 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) fleur de sel or coarse kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped assorted fresh herbs (such as dill, basil, and mint)
  • 6 cups fresh arugula leaves or small watercress sprigs
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 5 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Method

    1. Combine melon and tomatoes in large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon fleur de sel and toss to blend; let stand 15 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and herbs to melon mixture. Season to taste with pepper and more salt, if desired.
    2. Toss arugula in medium bowl with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Divide arugula among plates. Top with melon salad; sprinkle with feta cheese and toasted almonds and serve.

Bringing It:

Keep the watermelon cold as long as possible before serving, and cut up the watermelon and tomatoes as close to serving time as you can. If you need to cut them up at home, hold off on tossing them with the salt until 15 minutes before serving. This looks beautiful on a platter atop the arugula, or in a big bowl with the arugula tossed right in.

 

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Rubble: A Beautiful Mess of Ice Cream

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This is it people. The opening weekend of summer is upon us, and we need to be ready. We’ve got three months of picnics, drive ins, hikes, sleepovers, pool parties, campouts, BBQ’s, road trips, beach trips, lake visits, river running. In short, this is when you need to get your Bring It on!

You don’t just want to bring “something” to all these occasions. You want to bring the thing that keeps people coming back for more. Here are a few faves:

My number one recommendation is, of course, Hero Slaw, but there are other salads that will stand up to travel, and make you popular once you arrive. Panzanella and Shrimp and Bulgur salad are hard to beat for ease and deliciousness. If your numbers are smaller and you can handle a little on-site assembly, let them eat pineapple avocado salad.

Casually plunk People’s Choice Cornbread on the table and watch the kids move right on in. Use the same casual approach with a loaf or two of Easiest French Bread Ever, which you can also slice up for bruschetta or make in a well-buttered loaf pan and use for sandwiches (hellooo road trips!)

If you are on cocktail duty for a crowd, bust out your Tupperware pitchers and freeze up a big batch of frosé or frozen daquiris. Nobody’s going to send you away with a pitcher of watermelon sangria either.

And fergawdsakes don’t forget the cookies! Champion chip cookies and these cinnamon-y oatmeal raisin ones will do the trick.

And speaking of dessert…I recently met a totally Memorial Day worthy recipe. “Rubble,” is a creation straight from Squaw Valley, courtesy of Treas, the Squaw of Granite Chief. She made it for us with chocolate, vanilla, coffee and strawberry ice cream, and with chocolate and caramel sauce. (Overachiever!) Eminently adaptable Rubble can be made with any combo of ice cream and sauce, and it can be expanded to fit the size of the group. Perhaps best of all, it can be sourced at pretty much any market— even a decent mini mart.

Treas aspires to make this in more grown up flavor combos, but I can attest that the straight up chocolate, coffee, vanilla, strawberry is fantastic. As a bonus it can be assembled by kids or adults with no real regard for exact instruction or amounts.

You will need, from the bottom up:

Equipment:

  • Parchment Paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Freezer

Ingredients:

  • Biscotti or any hard cookie (Treas uses Nonnis biscotti)
  • Ice cream, in amounts and flavors you desire
  • Fresh berries of choice
  • Ice cream sauce, again in flavor or flavors of choice.
  • Smoked almonds, roughly chopped (Treas holds the line here. Smoked almonds really make the difference, and yes they probably have them at the mini mart)

Method:

Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.

Smash/break up a few biscotti (do not crumble them too much. You want to be able to identify them), and scatter them across the parchment.

On top of that, start layering up: scoops of ice cream, a good drizzle of sauce, a smattering of berries and a sprinkling of chopped almonds over the whole shebang. Depending on the size of your crowd you may need to make more layers. Use your best artistic dessert instincts on this.

Put your masterpiece in the freezer so it coalesces into one frozen pile.

A few minutes before serving take out the rubble and let it soften just enough to be penetrable.

Have at it!

Bringing it:

Once frozen, rubble can take a short trip in the car with no ill effects. It’s not exactly tailgate fare though.

Happy Memorial Day all, and welcome to summer!

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Mochanut Granola

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For all those times when you wish you could chew your coffee.

When I first ran across a recipe for mocha granola, it was an a-ha moment. Coffee, chocolate and breakfast all in one bite? Brilliant! It sounded like the perfect offering for a weekend away, a camping trip, a hike, etc. And so, the experimenting and recipe sampling began.

Granola making is neither rocket science nor an exact science. It involves mixing oats with all your favorite tastes and textures, lubing it up some fat and sweetener, and baking it in the oven until it is crisp but not burnt. How much fat and sweetener is where granola can go from pretty healthy to totally decadent. One swishy LA café’s mocha granola recipe involves two sticks of butter. Well, duh. Of course it tastes good. So does a cheesecake, but it doesn’t really get your day off to a healthy start. Some recipes call for only ground coffee, which can get gritty and  others for only brewed coffee which can be kind of wimpy. I needed to slay this beast.

In my excitement I misread the first recipe, and by measuring ground coffee vs brewed coffee ended up using a solid 8 times the intended amount of coffee. That first batch could have been named “True Grit.” Still, I didn’t want to back off that much on the coffee flavor, which happens if you use only brewed coffee. The extra liquid also means your granola takes longer to bake and crisp. I settled on using a combo of finely ground coffee, in the dry ingredients, along with brewed coffee mixed in with the oil and maple syrup.

The flavor profile of this reminded me of my youth, when Jamocha Almond Fudge ice cream turned my world upside down. I am pretty sure that in 6th grade I worked the flu for an extra day to stay home with this particular flavor. This recipe bridges the territory of breakfast and treat. It’s got a double dose of coffee— liquid and ground—which is balanced by

Roasty and toasty, straight from the oven.

a fair yet not indecent amount of sweetener, mostly in the form of maple syrup. I also added unsweetened flaked coconut, because when coconut rolls around and gets toasty with maple syrup it assumes bacon-like decadence.

You can sub butter or another oil for the coconut oil, and mess around with the type and quantity of sweetener you like (or have). Play around with it, and when you walk back inside your house and it smells like coffee, chocolate and roasted nuts…you’re welcome!

Mochanut Granola

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup almonds (or nut of choice)
  • 1 cup unsweetened flakes coconut (this is the addict dose. Use your judgment)
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa
  • 1 Tbsp finely ground coffee
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • ½ tsp or more vanilla (optional, but why not?)
  • 6 oz strong brewed coffee

Method:

Preheat oven to 325. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper. (It will cook up and crisp faster in two.)

In a large bowl combine oats, almonds, coconut, cocoa and ground coffee.

In a small saucepan melt oil and stir it together with syrup and brewed coffee until combined.

Pour liquid mixture over oats and combine well. Spread granola evenly in pan(s).  

Bake, stirring and checking every 10 minutes, for 30-40 minutes, until desired dryness. Don’t skip the stirring, especially if it’s all on one pan. The granola will crisp up more as it cools. Cool completely before storing.

Bringing it:

Curl up that parchment paper and funnel this goodness straight into a mason jar. Bring it anywhere you want to be a morning hero.

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Cinco de Derby

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With this in your house, how can your weekend go wrong?

 

 

 

 

What we have here, my friends, is a dream Double Header. Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby, on successive non-school nights. If there was ever a time to have a cool, refreshing  drink in your hand (and a snazzy hat on your head) this is it.

In honor of creative cocktails and mocktails, below are two infused simple syrups that will give your drinks a fresh twist appropriate for the upcoming occasions. And what the hell—keep scrolling for a few cocktail concoctions as well, though they are only a starting point. Don’t be afraid of using the jalapeno syrup in your mint julep (or even subbing cilantro for the mint) for some south of the border cha-cha.

Have fun and if you’re placing bets, good luck!

Jalapeño Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and halved lengthwise (or not seeded if you are brave)

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine 1 cup water, sugar, and jalapeños. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer to three to four minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and let steep 20 minutes.

Strain syrup, discard jalapeños (or chop up the now mild pepper and use as desired), and cool syrup. (Simple syrup can be refrigerated, in an airtight container, for up to 6 months. It keeps even better if you add a capful of vodka.)

Cilantro Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large handful cilantro leaves

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan, and bring it to a slow boil while stirring continuously until all the sugar has dissolved. Just as the mixture begins to boil, add 1 cup of fresh cilantro. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and let cool (this syrup will keep in your fridge for about a month. More if you add a capful of vodka).

Now how do we use them? Below are two ideas, but this is no time to follow directions. Use these in whatever cocktail or mocktail could use some salsa sass.

Each makes two drinks:

Cilantro coolers: wayyyy better than a kale smoothie on a fine spring night

Cucumber Cilantro Cooler

Cool. Hot. Fresh. This one has it all. slightly adapted from organic authority

To a cocktail shaker add:

  • 1 cup chopped cucumber (seeds removed) and a large handful of cilantro leaves (cilantro haters use mint instead, and maybe extra vodka to get over the cilantro glut)

Muddle well with a muddler or a heftier pestle. Then add:

  • 4 ounces vodka
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 1 1/2 ounce jalapeno simple syrup
  • ICE! Don’t be shy here.

Shake well for twenty seconds and then strain* into a lowball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a wheel of cucumber and a sprig of cilantro.

*brave multi taskers, fans of zero waste, and those desperate for a meal idea because they spent so much time prepping cocktails will love this: fully drain the remaining cucumber and cilantro shrapnel and mix it in with Chinese noodles, a few more veggies and soy dressing for a summery salad.

 Jalapeno Cilantro Margarita

To a shaker add:

  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 ounce cilantro syrup
  • 1 ounce Blanco tequila
  • 1 ounce Reposado tequila and 6-8 slices of jalapeno (seeds removed).

Shake it like you mean it, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lime, a slice of jalapeno and a sprig of cilantro.

And finally, if making margs for a bigger crew…

Spicy Margaritas by the Pitcher

  • 2 cups of tequila
  • 1 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 cup of orange liqueur
  • 1/2 cup of jalapeno simple syrup

Stir together with ice in a large pitcher and pour into 8 glasses.

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Get Your Picnic On: Lemony Shrimp and Bulgur Salad

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Driver Ed Lesson of the Day:Taking your shrimp show on the road.

Driver’s Ed is taking me down. This is my second round of Driver’s Ed, the five weeks of captivity that will eventually lead to liberty. This time it is in St Johnsbury—again nowhere near where I live—so it involves lots of scheduling and shuttling of hungry kids. It can also involve a boatload of cash if you’re not careful. Whether it’s Driver’s Ed or spring sports turning your car into a food truck, this is the time to get your picnic on.

One week in and I have already overworked my chicken rotation (oven fried chicken totally goes the distance).There is a tomato hater on board so the Panzanella of the Gods is out. I’m also not yet ready to surrender to the quick fix of pasta and meatballs, so I turned to a super easy, substantial and delish salad.

This salad is a brilliant go-to for potlucks and picnics. It stars bulgur, which is sort of my new best friend. The beauty of bulgur is that it requires no cooking AND it’s cheap cheap cheap. Bulgur just needs to soak for a bit and it’s ready to use, making is a nice alternative to overnight oats…but that’s another meal and another conversation. We’re sticking with the picnic message here.

What else makes this salad so great? It’s quick and easy to prep and pack, requires zero to minimal stove time and few ingredients, can be eaten at any temp and does leftovers like a boss. The spinach holds its own on Day 2, so even if you are an avowed leftover salad hater (helloooo entire rest of my family), this might entice you to change your ways.

The recipe calls for cooked shrimp. I usually start with raw, defrosted shrimp, and cook them in a pan with some olive oil and/or butter, and a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar. Do shrimp how you do shrimp. It’s all good.

Grab that bag of shrimp from the freezer, soak some bulgur and make this salad. Then you’ll have all the time in the world to worry about having another driver in the house.

Lemon Bulgur Salad with Shrimp

This came from Food and Wine, but, as you can see in my notes nimbly veers to many variations. If you forget to get radishes you can go with any crisp, thinly sliced vegetable. No pine nuts? Use what you’ve got. Here, I used pecans.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups coarse bulgur
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound large cooked shrimp, shelled
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 4 radishes (or another crisp veggie), thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (or nuts/seeds of choice)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. In a bowl, cover the bulgur with warm tap water. Let stand until the grains are tender, about 2 hours. Drain the bulgur well. (If needed, speed up the process with hot water.)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk the lemon zest with the lemon juice and chopped dill. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the bulgur, shrimp, baby spinach, sliced radishes and pine nuts and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Bringing It

The salad can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. Add the spinach, radishes and pine nuts just before serving. (It can also totally be eaten in the parking lot of a Driver’s Ed class, or wherever you can find free parking and wifi. )

 

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The Unicorn that Jumped the Shark

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A sign of the times, direct from the Jet Blue terminal in JFK.

Unless you are living in, say, Narnia, you have likely noticed the Unicorn theme going on in the food world. There are rainbow-colored everythings, from cupcakes and cookies to noodles and sushi. I know of one person who got on a waiting list for $60 rainbow bagels…that reportedly “tasted like dirt.” And now, to punctuate the moment, Starbucks comes out with the Unicorn Frappuccino, an unnaturally bright, pink-to-purple, sweet-to-tart-morphing frozen beverage.

I tracked down the Unicorn Frappuccino at its source at a Starbucks in JFK, amidst a long line of bleary-eyed redeye survivors and dawn patrol flyers. Although nobody was ordering one at that hour, I got a few customer reviews of the mango flavored frozen slurry including: “Disgusting, with gross sweet tarty sugar on top,” or, as Stephen Colbert put it,  “a sugary affront to God.” This, my friends, is where Unicorn Food has, like the Fonz, jumped the shark, effectively creating “the moment when a brand, design, franchise, or creative effort’s evolution declines, or when it changes notably in style into something unwelcome.”

The unicorn food craze started out as a creatively wholesome pursuit, with unicorn toast. This is essentially cream cheese tinted with natural dyes from beet juice, freeze dried strawberry powder, turmeric root, chlorophyll, spirulina powder and freeze dried blueberry powder. Those little pots of fantasia, whimsically swirled on toast and garnished with star-cut vegetables, was innocent enough. Then Pinterest took over and things took a decidedly unnatural turn.

The trend must say something about a need for escapism (I am the Unicorn of Your Confidence, after all), or about the number of people on Pinterest with too much time on their hands. 

Whatever nefarious marketing ploy may be at the heart of this trend, one must concede that, throughout picnic season at least, rainbow colored food is a legit thing. If you want to bring your A Game to the table, you need to have unicorn food technology in your skill set.

A far safer, healthier, cheaper and more educational starting point—than ponying up $5 for 420 calories and 59 grams of sugar (the equivalent of 6 Krispy Kreme donuts and 22 Weight Watcher Points) for a Uni Frapp—are unicorn noodles. The basic recipe involves little expense and no fancy ingredients or techniques. As a bonus they involve a little bit of science. This is not Mentos in Diet Coke explosion excitement science, but acid (lemon juice) meets anthocyanin (cabbage mojo) color-changing science.

All you need to be trendy is some red cabbage, some lemon juice, and some clear rice noodles. (If you crave another white carb, make rainbow rice as featured in this unicorn sushi.) Once you have made the noodles, the challenge is finding something appealing to put on them. Peanut sauce? Not so pretty. Marinara? No grazie. Considering the lemon juice already at work, I went with olive oil, capers, parsley, salt and grated parmesan cheese (thank you Patti G!). Really any blanched or grated vegetables would work. Indigo Kitchen goes full Yellow Brick Road Technicolor and plates the noodles with every fresh vegetable and fun sauce on the planet, like this and this. I feel healthier and kind of magical just looking at these creations.

So here is the basic recipe, tightened up from Indigo Kitchen. If nothing else, just bring it to a friend’s house as a conversation starter. I mean really…unicorn side at the pot luck—you win!

Unicorn Noodles

Ingredients:

  • Water
  • Chunk Red cabbage
  • lemon or lime juice
  • toppings, mix-ins, fairy dust, etc…

Method:

Boil some water (enough to hold the amount of noodles you want) with the red cabbage. The amount of water used and the time you soak the noodles will affect the shade of blue your noodles will be. Less water/longer steep time= deeper color.

Turn off the heat and add the noodles. You can use basic white or clear noodles, but glass/clear noodles will get you the prettiest shade.

Let the noodles soak for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how deep you want the color to be. Remove the noodles and place them in a bowl.

before…

After. Rice noodles on left. Spaghetti on right. No contest really

Here comes the magic, and the chemistry lesson. Take a lime or lemon and squeeze some of the juice wherever you want it to be pink. Watch the noodles change color in front of your eyes. Hint: Bring the kids in here. Be a hero.

Purple cabbage has a pigment called anthocyanin, that changes color when it makes contact with something acidic or alkaline. When you cook a few pieces of purple cabbage for a short time in some water you’ll get a nice blue shade. Cook it for bit longer with a bit more purple cabbage for a nice purple shade. Add something acidic (lemon or lime juice) to the blue colored noodles and the pigment from the purple cabbage will react and take on a bright pink color.  It really happens. Try it! If you are not impressed, there’s always Starbucks.

Passing the Nina test. She is too nice to squawk.

Unicorn noodles: stars, mane and carrot horn for extra credit

 

 

 

 

turmeric-unicorn-noodles

Turmeric joins the party, lending yellow flair in unicorn land.

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