Sometimes people in my office travel to awesome places that most people (sane people) do not want to visit – i.e. eastern Congo, South Sudan, Chad, etc. I do not get to go … but I want to. Getting chased by a monkey while on a run in Juba? Sign me up! Lost on the way to a refugee camp in Chad? I’m in. Randomly producing a music video for an African pop star? Yes please!!! (True stories.)
For the rest of us, ever desk-bound, all we can hope is that our intrepid colleagues come back safe and sound, with good stories/pictures/video, and bring back some delicious foreign treats to share.
Just before Christmas, someone brought back Belgian chocolates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (not to be confuse with the Republic of the Congo – yes, there are two Congos). All colonial irony aside, apparently there’s still a lot of Belgian stuff in Kinshasa, and the chocolate is delicious! I had a dark chocolate and orange truffle and was suddenly reminded how good dark chocolate and orange are together.
That truffle was still on my mind as I considered my baking options last weekend. Orange cake? Hmmmm. Dark chocolate ganache? Yummmmm. Together? It could work!
I’ve never made an orange cake before, and couldn’t find any good-looking recipes online, so I adapted a lemon cupcake recipe and it worked shockingly well. So here’s the cake strata breakdown: orange cake, dark chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting, orange cake, cream cheese frosting.
I chose this cake recipe based on ease and what ingredients I had – you could probably adapt any good lemon cake recipe. The ganache layer is key here, it really makes the orange-y-ness stand out. If you don’t like cream cheese frosting, you could do a butter cream frosting instead.
Orange Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache and Cream Cheese Frosting
1-3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
zest of two large oranges (about 2 tablespoons)
3 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3 cups cake flour (I only had 2 cups cake flour and therefore had to use one cup regular flour… it was OK, but the cake would probably be lighter if you had the right amount of cake flour.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-3 tablespoons milk or buttermilk as needed
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
2. Beat sugar, butter, orange zest, vanilla and almond extract in large bowl 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange juice.
3. Sift or mix (I never sift… mostly because I’m lazy and don’t own a sifter) flour, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Mix dry ingredients into butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
4. Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake about 25 minutes, until cakes start to pull away from the edges.
5. Let them cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then to get the cakes out, invert the pans and tap the bottom. Cool completely on wire racks until ganache-ing and frosting.
Dark Chocolate Ganache:
1. Stovetop: Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. OR Microwave: Bring cream to a simmer in a microwave safe bowl (it took about 1 minute for me).
2. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl.
3. Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed.
4. Let the ganache cool for about 10 minutes so it’s not too runny when you spread it on the cake. If it gets too firm, you can microwave it briefly.
Beat all frosting ingredients together until smooth and spreadable. Add more milk if necessary.
1. Put one layer of the cake upside down on a plate so the flattest side is up. Spread ganache evenly over the layer, trying not to go all the way to the edges (otherwise you might have a chocolatey smear in your white frosting).
2. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the bottom-side of the next cake layer and place it on top of the ganache.
3. Frost the outside of the cake with the rest of the frosting. I garnished with shaved dark chocolate.
4. Bring the cake to a party and make new friends!
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Winter is all about soup. I could eat a nice, steaming bowl of warming soup every day in the chilly months. A cup of summer tomato soup from the freezer for lunch with a simple sandwich, a hearty bowl with chunky bread and a good salad for dinner, even a little mug of leftover as an afternoon snack.
And this roasted garlic version is particularly comforting. It’s the perfect soup when you are chilled by the winter wind. I find I can make this without too much effort and have it on hand to get me through the coldest of days.
Mellow roasted garlic is brilliantly set off by its allium cousins – leeks, onion and green onion add depth and dimension. And this soup can handle any manner of toppers. Simple croutons, crispy bacon, a swirl of olive oil, a dollop of crème fraiche, a sprinkling of herbs; let your imagination run.
Roasted Garlic Soup
I take no issue at using the peeled garlic available at many stores. Just make sure it is as fresh as possible.
25 peeled cloves of garlic, from about 2 heads
2 medium leeks, white parts only
1 small white onion
3 large green onions, white and lightest green part only
7 cups of chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the garlic in a large, oven-proof Dutch oven (about 5 quarts). Slice the leeks in half, rinse them under running water, cut into chunks and add to the pot. Cut the onion into chunks and add to the pot, then cut the green onions into pieces. Salt them lightly, then pour in 2 cups of chicken broth and stir.
Place the pot in the oven, uncovered. Roast the vegetables for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft and mushy and the liquid is reduced. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a few minutes.
Transfer the vegetables and liquid to a blender and add 1 cup of chicken broth. You may want to do this in batches. Very carefully purée the soup. Leave the hole on the cover of the blender open, but hold it down with a tea towel. Hot liquids tend to send the cover flying. Wipe out the pot.
Pour the purée through a strainer and scrape as much substance through it as possible. Discard any leftover bits. Stir in the remaining 4 cups of broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Pour in the heavy cream and whisk to combine. Cook gently until the soup is warmed through.
The soup will keep, covered, in the fridge for two days. Reheat gently to serve, do not boil.
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Ann Mah’s debut novel, "Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family and Finding Yourself," has all the ingredients for a successful chick lit novel. It’s an easy, breezy read. It has a lovable heroine – Isabelle Lee – who has her flaws yet emerges victorious. And it offers so much more, especially for Asian Americans who hardly ever see themselves reflected in mainstream literature. Plus, the book is chock full of mouthwatering descriptions of the regional cuisines Isabelle samples in Beijing, Shanghai, and beyond.
Isabelle leaves behind debris of an ex-boyfriend and a dead-end editorial job in New York for the bright lights of big city Beijing. She moves in with her high-powered attorney sister, Claire, who helps her land a job as dining editor for an expat magazine. True to formula (and just the way I like it!), Isabelle bounces between two irresistible men, all the while struggling with her identity as American yet Chinese.
With her knowledge of the culture and language limited only to what Ann terms “kitchen Chinese” (hence the title of the book), Isabelle finds her way in Beijing’s fast-paced society and reconnects with her roots with a touch of self-deprecating humor, warmth, and somewhat wide-eyed innocence.
I couldn’t put the book down for many reasons. It was smart, funny and overall, a very engaging read. Three things really struck me:
1. Isabelle, with all her insecurities and self-doubts (about her identity, talents, allure, etc.) was very much like me. I could really identify with her character and I deemed her my soul sister!
2. The smattering of Mandarin words (written in Romanized hanyu pinyin) used throughout the book encouraged me to pick up Mandarin again.
To give you a taste, I asked Ann to share a little bit about herself (do check out her blog) and her book and I hope you treat yourself or a friend to it.
Q+A with author Ann Mah
What inspired you to write this novel?
In 2003, my husband and I got married and a month later we moved from New York to Beijing. I gave up a job I loved in New York book publishing to become a diplomat’s wife. Initially, I was a little stunned – and I missed my job so much it felt like I’d amputated a limb – but slowly the local Chinese food ignited a spark to explore. This book grew out of those experiences.
You’ve admitted that Isabelle’s story is inspired by your own life. But how much is true to (your) life and how much is fiction? Did you embellish Isabelle’s character/life with elements you wish were present in your life?
Oh, of course! Isabelle is based loosely on my own experiences but ultimately I decided to write a novel because it allowed me to explore ideas of ethnicity and self-discovery more metaphorically. Isabelle is much braver than I am, especially when it comes to eating everything and traveling in the primitive Chinese countryside. And, unlike me, she’s lucky enough to have a sister.
You spent a year in Bologna, Italy, on a James Beard Foundation scholarship, and after living in Paris for several years you are now working on a book about regional French cuisine. But you are ethnically Chinese and grew up eating Chinese food. How important was it for you to write this book and to spotlight China and Chinese cuisine?
I love Chinese food but in my Chinese-American home, I grew up eating it every day so I thought I knew everything about it. But when I got to China, I was shocked to discover an enormous landscape of regional cuisines – everything from numbing peppercorns to Chinese cheese – stuff wildly different from the food in my parents’ house. Food became the bridge that drew me into China. But the tale that burned inside of me was of a young American woman – who happens to be Chinese – living in Beijing. Food is the metaphor that allows the main character to make peace with her circumstances.
Growing up in Southern California, were you raised with strict Chinese traditions? Did living in China and/or the process of writing this book connect you to your culture? What are your reflections on both?
My father is ethnically Chinese but he was born in the States and as a result I had a very American childhood and grew up with a very American perspective. Living in China actually made me feel more American than Chinese because I felt more accepted by my compatriots, who understood that the conflict of outer appearance and inner identity. It also made me appreciate the struggles faced by my grandparents, who must have experienced the same fish-out-of-water challenges in 1920s California that I faced in 21st century Beijing. And, after leaving China, I have to say I missed Chinese food for the first time in my entire life. I still do.
Unlike many households, your dad did most of the cooking. Did you find this odd? Can you share a favorite recipe your dad taught you?
My dad grew up in central California, the son of Chinese immigrants who owned a Chinese restaurant. When he moved to North Carolina for his first job, he missed his mom’s food so much he taught himself how to cook it. I love to imagine him growing bitter melons and gailan (Chinese broccoli) – he even made his own tofu (once). Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the counter while he chopped garlic; he remains one of my favorite cooking partners. For his legendary dinner parties, he always makes a dish of salt and pepper shrimp – they’re so delicious, they can make even the most squeamish of eaters start to suck shrimp shells.
SPOILER ALERT– If you don’t want to know what happens in the end, stop reading now!
This question is to satisfy my personal curiosity. I like that you left Charlie and Isabelle’s relationship open-ended. I get annoyed when authors feel they have to give their characters a happy-ever-after ending. Was this intentional?
Ha ha – well, yes, I wanted Charlie and Isabelle to have a chance to be together, but who knows what happens to them in the end? I like to think Isabelle stays in China for a good long while, unlike me. Maybe she is my döppelganger in that sense.
Salt and Pepper Shrimp (Salad)
Ann learned to make this dish from her dad. She usually serves the shrimp as a salad with arugula or mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil. I adapted the recipe a little, tweaking amounts as well substituting pine nuts for red bell pepper. I also chose to serve the shrimp as a main course on an undressed bed of shredded red lettuce.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 to 3 servings as part of a multicourse family meal
1/2 pound shrimp (about 20 31/40 shrimp), peeled, cleaned, and patted dry (*preferably fresh because frozen shrimp contains salt, and you may have to alter the amount of salt you use)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt-pepper-sugar mixture (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 plump garlic clove, minced
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dry sherry or white wine
Bed of shredded lettuce or mixed greens for serving
In a small bowl, toss the shrimp with the salt-pepper-sugar mixture and cornstarch until well coated.
Preheat a wok or large skillet. Swirl in the oil and heat over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the shrimp and cook until they just turn pink (1 to 2 minutes on either side). Add the garlic, green onions, and red pepper and stir and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Drizzle in just enough sherry to create a sauce that barely coats the prawns. Remove from the heat.
Place the shrimp on the bed of greens and serve with rice.
This is a master batch for your spice cabinet (about 6 batches). You can increase the quantities to make more and store it in a bottle. I used white pepper from the Asian store which in my opinion is spicier than black pepper. Feel free to adjust the ratio according to taste.
2 tablespoons ground black pepper or white pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Combine all the seasonings in a small bottle or jar. Shake well and store for up to a month.
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This month I plan to focus on delicious winter salads using some easily accessible winter vegetables that are not only nutritious but delicious. After several weeks of eating rich or sugary foods, or attending one to many parties, most of us are trying to get back on track and eat better.
Salads are a great way of getting more veggies in, but they don’t have to be of the iceberg lettuce variety. They can be exciting, bold and hold up to dressings overnight in the fridge and get packed up easily for lunch the next day.
Today I wanted to share this flavorful side dish that turns into a delicious salad the next day. I love leftovers that don’t look like the way they did the day before. It makes me feel like I get to eat something special and new.
The kitchen notes offers some suggestions on how to make this same dish several ways using different herbs, so you can make it every week without it tasting like the “same old” carrots again.
This recipe serves 2 for dinner, but double accordingly if you have more mouths to feed or you’d like to have the lunch salad tomorrow.
1 medium shallot, sliced approximately a 1/4 cup
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1 tablespoon each olive oil and fresh orange juice
salt and pepper
green onions sliced on the bias or chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Toss all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss until well coated. Place the carrots into a baking dish and bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until tender. If you like, you can broil them for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time to develop the caramelized flavor of the carrots and onions.
Tip: If you are making the salad with leftovers tomorrow, now is a great time to toast 1/2 cup of walnuts or nuts of choice.
If you’re in a hurry, there’s no reason why these carrots couldn’t be baked at 425 degrees F for less time. The look of this dish can easily be varied by simply changing the way the carrots are sliced.
Substitute fresh dill or tarragon for the fennel seeds or try it with tossing the carrots with a tablespoon of honey (substitute maple syrup or agave for vegans) and 1/4 cup of toasted almonds.
If you’d like a more exotic taste, add a 1/2 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds to the fennel seeds and sprinkle the carrots with 1/2 teaspoon dried chilies and 1/4 cup of raisins before baking. Top with fresh cut cilantro before serving and a side of raita. Add quinoa or millet for a flavorful vegetarian meal (skip the raita for a vegan meal).
Spinach and Roasted Carrot and Fennel Salad
2 cups of spinach
1 cup of roasted carrots with fennel (recipe above)
1 tablespoon goat cheese (optional)
citrus dressing (below)
salt and pepper to taste
Top the spinach with the carrots. Add the walnuts, goat cheese and dressing. If you'd like to make this ahead of time to bring for lunch tomorrow, add the dressing right before serving to assure the spinach doesn’t wilt. If you like you can even serve this with orange segments.
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper.
We’re not big on new year’s resolutions at Blue Kitchen. There’s something so rigid and formal about "resolving" to do something: “Be it hereby resolved that….” But there are things that we talk about doing, directions we talk about taking. The first post of the new year seems like a good place to explore a couple of them.
One is something we’ve actually been doing for a while – eating less meat. The other is getting into cooking more Indian food at home. This simple, spicy, big-flavored tofu curry let me do both.
The recipe is adapted from "Vegan Indian Cooking: 140 Simple and Healthy Vegan Recipes" (2012) by Anupy Singla. Published by the Agate Surrey imprint, the cookbook contains background on Indian cuisine and helpful tips on spices, spice blends and shortcuts. A former TV news journalist, Anupy has turned full time to sharing Indian cuisine with the world. Her first cookbook, "The Indian Slow Cooker," has been the No. 1 best selling Indian cookbook on Amazon since its release in 2010.
A vegan, Anupy cooks with oils rather than ghee, the clarified butter used by many Indian home cooks and professional chefs. There arguments for the health benefits of each approach, but she likes the lighter flavor and lower saturated fat content she gets cooking with oils. She also cooks with spices. Lots of them. She points out that spices don’t always equal heat; sometimes they just produce big flavors.
Sometimes, though, as with this tofu curry, the heat is plentiful. And this was even with me toning it down for our Western palates. It was also wonderfully authentic. One reason is that, as you look over the ingredients, you’ll note that while curry is in the name, curry powder isn’t on the list. Like most Indian cooks, Anupy never uses curry powder. In India, the term curry is generally used to to refer to a dish that has broth or a sauce, as opposed to dry dishes. Those sauces vary from dish to dish and family to family.
Curry powder, it turns out, was created by Brits to mimic the tastes and smells of cuisines they’d sampled while visiting or living in India. That said, prepared curry powders have become quite popular and are now found in kitchens around the world (including ours, I must admit). By following Anupy’s lead and leaving the curry powder in the pantry for this dish, I ended up with big, bold flavors that didn’t taste kind of Indian or Indian-inspired, but Indian.
Makes about 2 cups
1 12-to-14-ounce package extra firm tofu
3 teaspoons garam masala, divided (see Kitchen Notes)
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium tomato, quartered
2 Serrano chiles, stemmed and halved
1 cup plain yogurt (see Kitchen Notes)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon asafetida (see Kitchen Notes)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup water
chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Prepare the tofu. Cut the tofu block crosswise into 1/2-inch slices, then cut those into bite-sized pieces; I cut mine into thirds. Gently lay them in a single layer on a plate covered with a double layer of paper towels. Gently press another double layer of paper towels on top of the tofu (you’ll notice I use the word gently a lot in discussing handling the tofu – it’s fragile). This will remove a lot of the moisture in the tofu and make it easier to sauté. Let the tofu drain for at least 15 minutes.
Season the tofu pieces on both sides with 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame for at least 90 seconds. Sauté the tofu in batches – overcrowding the pan will make it difficult to handle without breaking – gently turning with a spatula and a wooden spoon occasionally until browned on the edges, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Prepare the curry. While the tofu is draining, place the onion, ginger, garlic, tomato and chiles in a food processor bowl. Process into a smooth, slightly watery paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Add yogurt, salt, remaining 2 teaspoons of garam masala and cayenne pepper. Stir well to combine.
When tofu has been sautéed, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy pot (I used a Dutch oven) over medium flame. Add asafetida, cumin seeds, turmeric, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves. Cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add yogurt mixture and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly.
Remove cinnamon stick and cardamom pods (and cloves, if you can find them – if not, apologize in advance). Add tofu to the pot, stirring (yes, gently) to coat with sauce. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Serve. There are a couple of options. We treated this as a main course, and I plated individual servings over cooked rice, garnishing with cilantro. It can also be passed around as one dish in a larger meal; Place it in a serving bowl and garnish with cilantro. It can be passed around the table with rice and other dishes.
Spices, Indian and otherwise. The list of spices for this recipe is impressive, I’ll admit. But most should be fairly easily found either in supermarkets or specialty shops. Garam masala is a ground spice blend used in North Indian cooking. If you can’t track it down, you’ll find a recipe for a simplified version here. Asafetida is unpromisingly also known as devil’s dung or stinking gum. Raw, it has an unpleasant odor, but when cooked into food, it adds a delicious mild onion/garlic flavor – it’s featured in lots of Indian cooking. If you can’t find it, this dish already has plenty of onion and garlic in it.
Go vegan with soy yogurt. Anupy’s original recipe calls for soy yogurt. I used regular plain yogurt instead for a vegetarian but non-vegan version. Either works just fine.
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Let’s not call it quits on all the decadence just yet. The holiday spirit is still lingering in the air and for many of us lucky souls, our palates have become so accustomed to sweet treats. It seems that much of the country is experiencing intense weather and plenty of snow. Whether you are recovering from difficult holiday travel or tucked snug inside, my guess is that clutching a mug of spiced cocoa will hit the spot.
The spice mixture I created for this cocoa was inspired by Dutch cookies called speculaas. They have the usual gingerbread spices and sometimes an added bite from a touch white pepper. If you didn’t know the white pepper is in this recipe, you probably wouldn’t guess it by sipping the cocoa. It adds a subtle, additional warmth to the back of your throat.
I intended to make large jars full of this cocoa mix and give it as Christmas gifts but that became one more project heaped on my “didn’t get around to it” pile. Instead, I have had a bowl of the spice mixture on my counter for weeks and have sprinkled it into cocoa and most recently steel cut oatmeal, which was delicious along with a large spoon of brown sugar.
The flavor and quality of this cocoa will be determined entirely by the type of chocolate you buy. Though the price is higher, Callebaut, Valrohna or something comparable will transform this into a decadent sipping experience.
Gingerbread Spice Hot Chocolate Mix
Makes 8 servings
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground all spice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 teaspoons ground clove
1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
1/4 teasopon kosher salt
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (or regular white sugar), see recipe below
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder (I like Valrohna)
1 cup (about 8 ounces) finely chopped high quality dark, semi-sweet chocolate (I used Callebaut)
Mix everything except the chopped dark chocolate in a bowl with a whisk until well combined. Stir in the dark chocolate until mixed. To make cocoa, stir 1/4 cup of the mixture into 8 ounces of hot milk. Adjust the amount of chocolate you want for weaker or stronger cocoa.
How to Make Vanilla Sugar:
1 whole vanilla bean
2 cups granulated sugar
Put sugar in a bowl. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the insides with a knife. Put the small seeds in the bowl with the sugar. Stir with a whisk to combine until the small black seeds are evenly mixed with the sugar. Put the sugar in an airtight container. Press the vanilla pod into the middle (this will give some extra flavor and aroma). Let the sugar sit for at least 48 hours or ideally, up to 2 weeks. Remove the pod before using.
It's that time of year when I temporarily switch over from dessert recipes to "real food" recipes. It's partly because I've been baking so much over the holidays that yes, even I burn out on baking and sugar. Don't worry, that particular insanity really does pass (give me another week or so). In the meantime, I still have to eat and as part of every new year, I make a concerted effort to cook for myself and stop eating out or getting takeout for my sustenance. Actually, I've been getting better at cooking for myself (not necessarily the results, just the act of cooking) and as has been the theme with real food recipes this year, Pinterest provides a lot of possibilities.
Case in point is this recipe for lemon chicken I found on Pinterest from Juju Good News. This is a healthy rendition of lemon chicken where the main ingredient really is lemon. I still have a bunch of lemons from my mom's lemon tree and she keeps asking if I need more. Since I'm not baking, I decided to repurpose the lemons into a savory dish in an attempt to use up the bounty. Plus, my friend Hongpei gave me a rosemary plant for Christmas so this had the added bonus of using a fresh herb I already had.
If you make the recipe as is, this is a pretty healthy choice, even healthier if you leave off the butter. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts and had half a piece over a bed of salad greens (squirt of lemon as the dressing) for my dinner. I know, I know, you think someone's hacked my blog and this couldn't possibly be me. Would it help if I said I followed up that singularly healthy dinner with a chocolate chip cookie baked in a ramekin and topped with vanilla ice cream? See, it really is me.
In any case, if you make this recipe, I don't advise using chicken breasts. As I've discovered (more than once but I keep forgetting), they dry out too easily. I baked mine a trifle too long so yup, they were a bit dry. There isn't much "sauce" although the lemon does permeate the chicken nicely, especially considering I marinated it overnight. So stick with the thighs or drumsticks per the original recipe.
However, all is not lost if you do end up with sauceless, slightly dry chicken. I searched for and found a recipe for lemon sauce (bonus: it used up more lemons). I may have to stock up on lemons after all the next time I go to my mom's. This sauce is reminiscent of the sauce for lemon chicken in Chinese restaurants and is also thick, thanks to the cornstarch. Don't be afraid to go big on the lemons – you want that nice lemon flavor.
From Juju Good News
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2-4 lbs. of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs or drumsticks (I used chicken breasts)
2-3 tablespoons melted butter
Thinly sliced lemons, for garnished
1. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper in a large zipper-lock plastic bag. Seal the bag and shake well to blend. Place the chicken pieces in the bag with the marinade, pressing out excess air and sealing once more. Refrigerate and let marinate for 2 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 degree F. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and transfer to a baking dish, skin-side up, reserving the leftover marinade. Brush the top of each piece of chicken with melted butter.
3. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until the skins are crispy and well-browned. Halfway through baking, pour the remaining marinade over the chicken pieces in the baking dish. Once fully baked, cover loosely with foil and let rest 10 minutes before serving. Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with lemon slices and serve.
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I’ve been having offal thoughts lately. They started with a piece I recently wrote for The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine on nose-to-tail eating. The current trend of using the entire animal – and indeed, the phrase nose to tail itself – began with publication of Fergus Henderson’s seminal cookbook, "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating." As chefs are increasingly embracing the idea of cooking and serving “odd cuts,” the CSM editors wondered if diners and home cooks were taking to those odd cuts. The short answer is yes.
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When I got the assignment, I immediately thought of Rob Levitt, owner of Chicago’s first whole animal, locavore butcher shop, The Butcher & Larder. We met Rob when he was chef at Mado, one of the city’s first whole animal, locavore restaurants. Rob and his staff butchered, cooked and served pretty much every part of every animal delivered to the kitchen.
Besides serving up odd bits – pan seared beef hearts and pig head stew – Rob turned internal organs and trimmings into charcuterie, terrines and silky pâtés. Fat was rendered into lard for cooking, and bones became stock for sauces and soups.
In older, more practical, less squeamish times, using every bit of the animal was just what was done. Food was often hard to come by, especially meat, and you didn’t waste it. Today, chefs, butchers and a growing number of home cooks are returning to cooking everything, partly to honor the animals. It makes good environmental sense, too. More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock; the more we use of the animal, the better the use of our resources. As a bonus, diners and home cooks are discovering that these odd bits are full of flavor and cheaper.
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When Marion and I visited Rob at his butcher shop to discuss the nose-to-tail trend, he reminded us of a dish he often served at Mado, ragù bianco. This traditional Italian “white” sauce (white only in the sense that it doesn’t have tomatoes in it and therefore isn’t a red sauce) has many variations, but most use more than one kind of ground meat. Rob’s version combined ground pork trimmings – the various leftover muscle parts that don’t neatly divide into chops or ribs or hams and such – and ground pork liver. Before we left The Butcher & Larder, we acquired a half pound each of ground pork and ground pork liver to make our own ragù bianco.
Liver lends the dish a nice gamey complexity that the ground pork alone wouldn’t deliver. Fresh fennel, wine, and cream help tame the overall liver flavor. Carrots are often an ingredient in this ragù; I substituted mushrooms cooked in brandy to add an earthier note. Also, I substituted linguine for the more traditional penne pasta. Feel free to ignore this switch.
Linguine with Ragù Bianco
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms (I used crimini)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup brandy (cheap stuff will do just fine) [editor's note: substitute with 1/4 cup fruit syrup]
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground pork liver (see Kitchen Notes for substitutes)
1 fennel bulb, diced, about 1-1/2 to 2 cups (see Kitchen Notes)
2 shallots, chopped (or 1 medium onion)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dry)
2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
1 cup Chicken stock (or low-sodium broth)
1 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine or broth]
1/4 cup cream or half & half
1 pound linguine
Heat a large nonstick skillet or sauté pan over medium flame. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl together. Add mushrooms and sauté, turning occasionally, until they brown nicely and give up their moisture and it cooks off, about 5 minutes. Drizzle in a little more olive oil, if needed – mushrooms are sponges. Remove pan from flame and pour in brandy [or fruit syrup]. Return to flame and cook, stirring, until brandy just about evaporates. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in pan and add ground pork and ground pork liver. Season lightly with salt and cook, stirring with wooden spoon to combine. Use the spoon to break up the meat as it cooks. The meat will smell very liver-forward at this point, but don’t be alarmed; just use your stove vent and keep your pickier eaters out of the kitchen.
When meat is cooked through, push it to the sides of the pan and add the diced fennel and shallots. Cook, stirring, until shallots begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Create another hole in the middle of the pan and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, 45 seconds or so, and add 1 cup of chicken stock. Add wine [or more stock] and stir to combine. Sprinkle thyme and fennel fronds over mixture, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally, adding more stock a little at a time if sauce becomes too dry (I added stock three different times, but use a light hand).
Meanwhile, start a pot of water for the pasta. When sauce has been cooking for an hour, cook the pasta according to package directions. Remove sauce from heat and stir in cream and the last tablespoon of butter. Taste and adjust seasonings. When pasta is just al dente, drain quickly and toss about half of it with sauce. Add more pasta and toss to combine. If you don’t add all the cooked pasta, that’s okay, but you probably will.
Using tongs, divide pasta among 4 shallow pasta bowls. Spoon remaining sauce in the pan over the bowls of pasta and serve immediately.
Not a liver lover? I’m not either, in the straight up “here’s your liver and onions” sense. I love pâtés and braunschsweiger, though. If that’s your take on liver, you’ll like this dish as is. The wine and, at the end, the cream and butter all combine to tame the liver’s characteristic flavor while still letting it shape the dish. Some recipes use a smaller amount of liver in relation to the other meat or meats. Others dispense with liver altogether, combining different mixes of pork, beef and chicken. At least one recipe includes venison in the mix, providing some of the gaminess I enjoy in this version.
How to prepare fennel bulbs. I’ve been cooking with fennel bulbs a lot lately, so I skipped how to wrestle with one in this recipe. If you’d like a detailed description, you’ll find it in my Caramelized Fennel with Fettuccine and Goat Cheese recipe.
RECOMMENDED: Nose-to-tail dishes turn trendy
No self-respecting Southerner, I boldly say, would let New Year’s Day pass without at least one bite of black-eyed peas. They are supposed to bring good fortune for the New Year, and everyone can use a little bit of that. Hoppin’ John is traditional in many quarters, but peas slowly cooked with a piece of pork are the norm for many. I like to vary my black-eyed pea intake, from my classic recipe to a big bowl of Good Luck Gumbo. But no matter how you eat them, cornbread is the traditional accompaniment to black-eyes. So here’s a recipe that kills two birds with one stone, and is tasty to boot.
This recipe is very simple, though it has a couple of steps. It’s easily done while watching the football game, which I understand is a popular New Year’s Day activity, or while resting on the sofa after some late-night revelry. Season this to your own tastes, lots of spicy Creole seasoning or just a touch, tomatoes with green chile or without. I find country ham “biscuit slices” readily at most markets in vacuum packages, but whole slices are just fine. Chopped “seasoning pieces” are great for seasoning, but don’t make great eating, so avoid them. For some prosperity to go with your New Year optimism, serve these with greens, like Foldin’ Money Cabbage.
Black-eyed Pea and Cornbread Skillet
For the Black-eyed Peas
4 ounces center cut country ham biscuit slices
4 cups of water
Half of a small yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
12 ounces frozen black-eyed peas
3 green onions, white and light green part only, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 (14.5-ounce can) diced tomatoes with green chile (or plain diced tomatoes), drained
Salt to taste
For the Cornbread:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
For the Black-eyed Peas:
Cut the country ham into small cubes and put it in a saucepan with the halved onion, garlic and bay leaves. Pour over 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises, lower the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and 1/2 teaspoon of the creole seasoning. Simmer for 1 hour, or until the peas are tender.
Drain the peas, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the onion, garlic and bay leaves. Rinse out the bean pot and return it to the heat. Melt the butter in the pot, then add the chopped green onions and cook until soft and translucent, but do not brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until smooth and pale. Stir in 1 cup of the cooking liquid and cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced slightly, about 8 minutes. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning (or to taste). When the sauce has thickened, add the peas and ham and stir to coat. Stir in the drained tomatoes and cook until the sauce has reduced a bit more and just coats the peas, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.
Brush a 10-inch cast iron skillet with oil. Scrape the cooked peas into the skillet and smooth the top. Set aside while you make the cornbread.
For the Cornbread:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Stir the cornmeal, baking soda and salt together in a bowl using a fork. In a large measuring jug, measure the buttermilk, then add the egg and melted butter and beat until combined. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spread the cornbread batter over the top of the peas in the skillet. Carefully transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cornbread is puffed, golden, and set.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Black-eyed peas for luck
Today's Beyond the Peel post is the last in our series of quick, easy and healthy holiday appetizers. I hope that over the course of the past month you have gotten some good ideas on how to make your holiday entertaining not only a little healthier but also a little easier. For some holiday appy ideas, check out our appetizer videos on www.beyondthepeel.net.
Out of all the ideas we’ve shared, I find stuffed endives to be the easiest and most flexible. You can fill endives with just about anything. If you’re at a loss for ideas, I’ll share four of my favorites with you in this video (posted below) that not only take minutes to assemble, but will have your grain free or gluten free guests happy to not be surrounded by crackers, crostinis, and baguette!
Following are links to the appetizers highlighted in the video and a list of all the other fabulous appetizers posts we did leading up until today:
Beet and Apple Slaw (used as a filling for the endives)
Holiday Popcorn Recipe (or anytime, snack time recipe!)
Beet and Pear Slaw
4 cups of grated beets
1 firm pear, cored and diced
1 green onion, finely sliced
In a large bowl, add the grated beets, diced pear and sliced onion. Add the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Apple Cider Vinaigrette
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons raw honey
Combine the above ingredients until honey is well blended through out. Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat well.