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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

You won't find these braised pork ribs with chee hao sauce on any take-out menu. (A Palatable Pastime)

Braised pork ribs and veggies with hoisin for Chinese New Year

By A Palatable Pastime / 02.05.14

For those who follow the Lunar Calendar, the Year of the Horse began January 31. The Chinese celebrate this as the Spring Festival, the Vietnamese celebrate this as Tet and the Koreans celebrate Seollal. Celebrations can go on for a couple of weeks, so if you plan on ringing in this Year of the Horse with tasty bites and libations, you should have some recipes at your fingertips.

Despite having the name Lau, I am not Asian. I do think of my surname as a lucky name, bringing me the good fortune of having tasted quite a variety of delicious Asian food, giving me a healthy love for it, and as well, the ability to put together recipes even a Chinese grandmother would love – if I had one. So if someone were to mistake me for being Asian (and yes, this has happened before), I would not be insulted and as a matter of fact, I would enjoy it.

I have an awful lot of recipes I could choose to share with you. So many in fact, I could spend the rest of the current lunar year typing away new recipes. So I am going to have to pick and choose from among my favorites. Some may be mainstream, some may be for the more adventurous. Some may be commonplace and others more unique, but they will all be good, I promise you. You can find my collection of wonderful Asian-inspired dishes here

Braised pork ribs in chee hao sauce
You can't get this take-out. You might wish you had a Chinese grandma to make this for you on a chilly day, or you can become the Chinese grandma yourself and make it for those you love. It is essentially a home-style Chinese stew, and it’s definitely a food of love.

3 pounds bone-in pork country style ribs

1 large knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thickly

5-6 cloves garlic, split

2-4 fresh red Thai chilies

1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

2 tablespoons chee hau sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 cups chicken broth

1 stalk lemongrass

1 tablespoon sugar

1 pound baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise

8 ounces fresh carrots, roll cut

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (garnish)

Steamed long grain rice

Sesame oil

1. Season meat with salt and pepper, then sear meat on all sides in a large skillet before placing into a dutch oven.

2. Meanwhile, flavor broth by smashing lemongrass and simmering in the broth, which you should season with five-spice powder, chee hao sauce, rice wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar.

3. Pour broth over meat in the dutch oven, and cover with aromatic vegetables (ginger slices, split garlic cloves).

4. Cover dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, then braise in oven at 325 degrees F., for 45 minutes.

5. Add onion and carrots to pan. Cover dutch oven and braise at 325 degrees F., for an additional 45 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and layer bok choy on top of all of it, replace the cover and bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until bok choy is tender.

7. Serve meat and vegetables over steamed rice with a little of the pan liquid (skim off unwanted fat), garnished with sliced scallions and drizzled with toasted sesame oil, if desired.

Green beans, tomatoes and mushrooms with hoisin

Easy steamed veggies with an amazing sauce. A Palatable Pastime

8 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed

4 ounces white mushrooms, quartered

1 medium tomato, chopped

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon grated ginger root

2 teaspoons hoisin sauce

4 teaspoons sesame oil

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Steam green beans and mushrooms 3-5 minutes or until done to your liking and mix in a bowl with tomatoes.

2. Whisk together remaining ingredients and toss with vegetables; serve.

Related post on A Palatable Pastime: Six Happiness Fried Rice Recipes

Use fresh tomatoes and then let this recipe simmer overnight in the slow cooker for a delicious homemade tomato soup. (The Runaway Spoon)

Simple slow cooker tomato soup

By The Runaway Spoon / 02.04.14

I have ditched canned soups for good.

First off, I love making soup from scratch. There is something warm and comforting about having a big pot simmering on the stove, or knowing there's some in the fridge that just needs to be heated and you’ve got instant comfort. I don’t think the can is an equal match – it is a poor substitute for something that can be so easily made fresh.

Sure, opening a can is quick, but making this soup is as quick and easy as it gets. Maybe a few minutes more works, but the pay-off in taste is worth the minimal extra effort. No unpronounceable ingredients, no metallic aftertaste, no unnecessary added sodium. The slow cooker and some ready prepared ingredients make it a snap to have fresh, flavorful soup with ingredients you chose, seasoned the way you like.

Tomato soup is my all-time favorite, perfect with a grilled cheese or crusty bread. If I am industrious, in the summer when tomatoes are fresh, I make lots of tomato soup base for the freezer. This is my winter version of that. Minutes to make and hugely adaptable. 

You can whip this up before you go to bed and have soup ready for the thermos or the fridge when you wake up. You can make it before you go to work while you are getting breakfast ready and dressed for the day, then have a warm bowl of soup waiting when you get home. I’ve listed some ideas on how to change up this recipe, but use your imagination to make the perfect soup for your family.

Simple slow cooker tomato soup
Make sure your vegetables and tomatoes have no added ingredients
Serves 6 – 8 

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1 package frozen carrots, celery and onions (“mirepoix blend”), thawed and drained

2 teaspoons minced garlic (freshly minced or from a jar)

2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

1 32-ounce box low-sodium chicken broth

5 sprigs fresh thyme

5 sprigs fresh oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

1. Cut the butter into small pieces and place in the crock of a 7-quart slow cooker. Partially cover and leave for a few minutes to melt. Add the vegetables and garlic, stir to coat with the butter, cover the slow cooker and leave to soften, about 20 minutes.

2. Pour the tomatoes and broth into the slow cooker and stir to combine. Tie the sprigs of thyme and oregano together with kitchen twine to make a neat little bundle. It is OK if leaves come off, but you don’t want stems in your soup. Tuck the herb bundle into the soup, cover the slow cooker and cook for 5 to 6 hours on high, or 7 to 8 hours on low.

3. When ready to serve, fish out the herb bundle and discard. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth (you can also do it carefully in batches in a blender). Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want a creamier soup, stir in the heavy cream and leave to warm through.


Add 1 tablespoon curry powder to the vegetables, omit the herbs, and stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk instead of heavy cream.

Add a small can of chopped green chiles to the vegetables, omit the herbs.

Stir in a can of rinsed and drained cannellini beans 20 minutes before the end of cooking time and warm through.

Stir in some cooked pasta or rice at the end of cooking until warmed through.

30 minutes before the cooking time ends, stir in some finely chopped spinach and cook until wilted and warmed through.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Roasted Garlic Soup

Roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli nestled on a bed of baby spinach form the base of this one-bowl dish. Miso dressing, toasted sesame seeds, and rice add flavor. (The Garden of Eating)

Broccoli and sweet potato rice bowl

By The Garden of Eating / 02.03.14

The inspiration for this dish came from my coworker, Anne, who e-mailed me the link to Smitten Kitchen's recipe as part of an ongoing group conversation about good ways to use miso paste. Deb at Smitten Kitchen adapted Gwyneth Paltrow's recipe on Goop and I am adapting it still further to reincorporate the idea of serving it over greens and rice using my new favorite rice, Lundberg Farm's Black Japonica.

With a couple bunches of lovely organic broccoli, baby spinach, a mellow white miso, fresh ginger, garlic, and a few other things to round out the dressing all this recipe requires is a bit of chopping. The yams went into the oven first since they needed more roasting time. When it was time to flip them, the broccoli florets followed.

Meanwhile, the rice was cooking. Everything was done at the same time and then it was time to build the bowls. First rice, then some spinach – the heat of the rice and of the roasted vegetables combine to wilt it a little which is nice. Then the miso dressing – no skimping! – and a topping of toasted sesame seeds to add a little, nutty, fragrant crunch.

Miso Broccoli Sweet Potato Rice Bowl adapted from Goop and Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4
For the bowl:

1 cup dried rice or another cooking grain of your choice

2 sweet organic potatoes

1 large bunch of organic broccoli

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 cups organic baby spinach or other greens

2 teaspoons sesame seeds (either white or black or both!)
For the dressing:

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons mild, white or yellow miso

2 tablespoons tahini (substitute almond or sunflower butter if you don't have tahini)

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cook the rice according to the directions on the package.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into a 1-inch dice. Rinse the broccoli well and trim the tough ends off the stalks with a sharp knife. Cut the florets into bite-sized pieces then peel the woody parts off the stems and cut them into chunks for roasting.
3. Toss the broccoli pieces and sweet potato pieces with a generous helping of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Lay the sweet potatoes out on one of the trays in a single layer and do the same with the broccoli on the other tray and set that one aside. Put the sweet potato tray in the oven and roast for 20 minutes – the chunks should be browned on the underside. Then flip the chunks and return to the oven and also put the tray of broccoli in the oven at the same time. Roast both trays for another 10-20 minutes until the broccoli is browned at the edges and the sweet potatoes should be bronzed and tender. If they appear to be cooking unevenly at the 10 minute mark, give them a stir and flip and cook a little longer.
4. While the veggies are roasting, make the miso dressing: combine everything in a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides once. Taste and adjust ingredients, if needed. I also ended up adding a little hot water at the end since my dressing was really thick and hard to pour.
5. Also while the veggies are roasting, toast the sesame seeds over medium to low heat in a small skillet until fragrant and then remove from the heat and let cool.
6. Now it's time to build your bowls! Scoop rice into each bowl then add the baby spinach and toss in the roasted vegetables. Drizzle the dressing over everything and then top with the toasted sesame seeds. Put the dressing out so that people can add more to their own bowl if they'd like.

Related post on The Garden of Eating: Lemony Roasted Broccoli with Pasta & Pinenuts

A popcorn bar is a tasty treat to serve a snacking Super Bowl crowd. (Courtesy of The Popcorn Board)

Super Bowl snacks: Mix up a popcorn bar

By Kendra NordinStir It Up! / 01.31.14

The words "Super Bowl" and "snacks" are inseparable for most sports fans. A popcorn bar is an inexpensive, low effort, healthy, and flavor-packed way to keep your appetite satisfied and maybe reaching a little less for those bags of chips, chicken wings, and rich dips.

But since those are good, too, don't miss our recommended game day appetizer list.

Some things to remember when setting up your popcorn bar. First, think outside the box of regular buttered and salted popcorn. A bowl of bright white popcorn can deliver all kinds of flavors and it doesn't have to as complicated (or messy) as making caramel corn.

Second, make up as much popcorn as your household can handle because we are about to give a lot of recipes and you'll want to try all them. You've got the time, this is a football game, remember?

Third, keep it basic. There's no reason to stress about this. Check out Stir It Up! blogger Sarah Murphy-Kangas's style when mixing up cheesy bowl of popcorn:

Thyme and Parmesan Popcorn
From In Praise of Leftovers

1. Pop a bunch of white popcorn kernels in your usual way.  If you're a microwave popcorn kind of person, make sure you use the kind with no additives or flavorings.  

2. Dump the popcorn into a big bowl and drizzle melted butter over it.  

3. Chop a bunch of fresh thyme (at least 2 big tablespoons). Scatter thyme over popcorn, shake a bunch of dried parmesan from a can, and sprinkle some garlic powder to taste. 

4. Finely zest half a lemon over the top (this is where microplanes really shine) and finish with some kosher salt, tasting first to see how salty the cheese made things.

Wait, there's more

If you are looking for more ideas, The Popcorn Board is a nonprofit "funded by US popcorn processors to raise awareness of popcorn as a versatile, whole-grain snack." They shared their wealth of ideas for a popcorn bar with Stir It Up!. Use your favorite method for popping corn and then check out your pantry, you'll probably have most of these seasonings on-hand.

The directions for the following flavored recipes are the same. Simply combine all seasonings together in a small bowl. Lightly spray a larger serving bowl with butter-flavored cooking spray, this will help the seasoning stick to the popcorn. Add the popped corn to the serving bowl and gently stir to coat the popcorn (alternatively you can use 1 tablespoon of melted butter for 2 quarts of popped corn). Then sprinkle the spice mixtures on top of the popcorn. Mix thoroughly until all kernels are coated.

Set out your popcorn bar with smaller bowls or paper cups. Descriptive signs will guide your snackers to their favorite flavor combinations.

Tex Mex Popcorn
From The Popcorn Board

2 teaspoons ground chili powder

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Sweet and Spicy
From The Popcorn Board

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the mixture over 2 quarts of popped corn. Store the rest in an airtight container for future use.

Lavendar Provencal
From The Popcorn Board

2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence (with lavender)

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

Chili Lime
From The Popcorn Board

Here's a twist that requires baking the flavors together in the oven. Prepare one quart at a time to keep things manageable in the oven.

1 quart popped popcorn

1 teaspoon brewer’s yeast powder (or nutritional yeast; available in health food stores)

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Spread popped popcorn on a baking sheet.

3. Sprinkle yeast powder, lime juice, chili powder and salt over popcorn.

4. Heat about 7 minutes and toss just before serving. Serve warm.

Nacho Cheese
From The Popcorn Board

Makes about 2-1/2 quarts of popped corn

1/3 cup cooking oil

3 or 4 dried chilies

1 large clove garlic, cut into quarters

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn

3 tablespoons hot oil

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Place cooking oil, chilies, garlic and cumin seed in a small saucepan.

2. Cook over low heat for 3 minutes; let stand 10 minutes.

3. Strain.

4. Use 3 tablespoons of seasoned oil for popping corn; reserve the rest. (Any unused oil can be stored for future use.)

5. This makes about 2-1/2 quarts popped popcorn. Pour remaining oil over popped popcorn, tossing to coat.

6. Mix Parmesan cheese, paprika and salt.

7. Sprinkle over popped popcorn, tossing to mix.

BBQ Popcorn
From The Popcorn Board

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of the mixture for each quart of popped corn. Store the rest in an air-tight container for future use.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with a roasted cranberry-glazed chicken with a sweet potato-fennel fricassee. (© 2014 Ming Tsai)

Chinese New Year: Celebrate happiness and wholeness with a roasted chicken

By Stir It Up! Editor / 01.31.14

It's the Year of the Horse and what better way to kick off the Chinese Lunar New Year than with a steaming plate of home cooked food? Even if you aren't a knowledgeable cook when it comes to Asian dishes, the holiday is a fun occasion to be festive and forward-looking at a dull time of year.

Ming Tsai has a talent for harmoniously combining traditions of the East and the West. The award-winning chef runs two Boston restaurants, Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon, and is the host of "Simply Ming," produced by WGBH, on which the charismatic Ming teaches home cooks how to master their own East-West innovations.

Stir It Up! turned to Ming for suggestions on creating a delicious dish for Chinese New Year.

"Chinese New Year is always the favorite holiday for feasting. At home, tables are overflowing with a multitude of delectable dishes," says Ming. Characteristic of his talent for creating Asian dishes that are grounded in Western comfort, he suggests home cooks try a roasted cranberry-glazed chicken with sweet potato-fennel fricassee (see recipe below).

"Chicken symbolizes happiness and prosperity, and the wholeness echoes the prosperity sentiment, while also signifying a good beginning and end to the year," he says.

Chinese traditions place great emphasis on the symbolism behind each food item on a plate. So even if you aren't up to making your own Chinese meal, you can mix and match from this list provided by Ming to create a banquet spread with meaning. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • dumplings – look like ingots of gold therefore symbolize wealth
  • egg rolls/spring rolls – symbolize wealth
  • noodles – symbolize longevity
  • whole chicken – family togetherness
  • clams – wealth
  • lettuce – rising fortune
  • whole fish – served at the end of the meal symbolizes a wish for abundance in the upcoming year
  • sticky rice cakes (Nian gao), made from glutinous rice flour, sugar – a homophone in Chinese for "a more prosperous year" and symbolizes a rich, sweet life
  • broccoli and cauliflower look like blossoming flowers – blossoming prosperous new year
  • green vegetables, such as bok choy – signify wealth because of their color
  • Red Roast Duck – red is the color of happiness, which is why it is served at wedding and New Year's banquets

Once you have designed your spread for Chinese New Year – and don't panic, you have 15 days to pull something together – dig in with this tasty East-meets-West meal that celebrates the wealth of family togetherness.

Roasted Cranberry-Glazed Chicken with Sweet Potato-Fennel Fricassee (© 2014 Ming Tsai)

Serves 4-6

1 6-pound whole organic or free-range chicken, rubbed with oil and seasoned well at least 20 minutes before cooking if you did not have time to *brine it properly

1/2 cup smashed garlic cloves

2 large sweet potatoes, 1-inch dice

2 large fennel, 1/2-inch slices

1 large red onion, sliced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 cup Oceanspray cranberries

2 small disks palm sugar, chopped finely with a knife

1/2 cup Shaoxing wine or sherry [editor's note: substitute cooking wine if you prefer]

Canola oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Pre-heat the oven to maximum, usually 550 degrees F., with roasting pan pre-heating.

2. In a large bowl, combine garlic, potatoes and fennel and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little canola oil and toss to coat.

3. When oven is preheated, dump mixture in roasting pan and top with chicken, breast side up. Turn pan once, back to front, until browned, about 15-25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan coated lightly with oil, combine onion, ginger and cranberries and sweat. Add palm sugar and deglaze with Shaoxing, stirring; allow to reduce by half.

5. Transfer mixture to a blender and blend smooth, drizzling in just enough oil to bring everything together and emulsify. Take care in allowing any steam to escape through the top center of blender cover, using a folded kitchen towel and your hand to cover the opening in the center. Season and check for flavor. 

6. After 15-25 minutes of cooking, start to glaze the chicken with cranberry mixture and reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. Stir the veggies. Roast for 45-55 minutes more, glazing periodically, until a wing can be moved back and forth with ease. Alternatively, place a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh without touching bone – when it registers 160 degrees F., it's done (carry-over cooking will take it to 165 degrees F.).

7. Serve roasted veggies and glazed chicken family-style on a platter.

*Brine method: Use sweet sea water ratio: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup kosher salt to 1 quart water, multiply as necessary to fully submerge protein in a large container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Rinse under running water before cooking.

Shrimp enchiladas smothered with Monterey Jack cheese and roasted poblano sauce. (Eat. Run. Read.)

Shrimp enchiladas with roasted poblano sauce

By Eat. Run. Read. / 01.30.14

Every Wednesday my roommate, Rachel, and I host a dinner party. The guest list (8-10) is a mix of our friends, people we want to be our friends, and people we think should be friends with each other (also factored in is food preferences, schedule, frequency of invites). It's a different mix every week, and has been a great way to get to know new people while in graduate school.

And we take Wednesdays seriously. It's our chance to take a break mid-week, do something creative that doesn't involve Power Point and spend time with friends away from campus – not involving group projects or any work that we "should" be doing. Because the only thing we should be doing on Wednesday nights is eating a delicious meal together.

Usually I make dessert and Rachel handles the meal, but last night we switched things up. It is cold here in Boston, so we decided on dishes inspired by warm weather. I decided on a menu based on a dinner my mama made for me over winter break: shrimp enchiladas with roasted poblano sauce.

To account for hungry grad student appetites, I doubled the recipe and made a shrimp version and a butternut squash and cheese version (vegetarians, I got you covered!). These enchiladas are what I would call California food: heavy on the fresh vegetables, whole wheat tortillas, with a little bit of Mexican flavoring mixed in for a spicy kick. I served them over a simple salad of spinach, black beans, and red onion with lime/olive oil dressing, plus chips and tomatillo salsa.

The recipe is based on this one from Annie's Eats. You should make it – you will love it.

Shrimp Enchiladas with Roasted Poblano Sauce
Total time: Approximately 1 hour (if you factor in all the veggie chopping/shredding, give yourself an hour and a half.)

*Vegetarian version in brackets

For the sauce:

2 poblano peppers

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups chicken broth or veggie broth

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt, or some mix of the two (I did 50/50)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

For the filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon oregano

Dash cayenne pepper (or more, if you like the heat)

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

2 cups green cabbage, shredded**

2 carrots, peeled and shredded (**or you can use pre-packaged cole slaw)

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (found in cans in the market), finely minced (seeded if you fear spice), or 1 teaspoon chipotle powder (tip: freeze extra peppers in ice cube trays and store in freezer bags)

1 pound shrimp, peeled, and deveined, and chopped [or 2 cups butternut squash, cubed in 1/4-inch squares]

To assemble:

10 to 12 (8-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas (you can use regular or corn tortillas if you prefer)

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese [Vegetarian version: you will need an additional cup if you're doing the butternut squash version and want to put cheese inside the enchiladas]

1. To roast peppers: Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Place peppers in a medium baking dish. Bake, turning every 6-8 minutes until the skin is blistered over most of the surface, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and let sit 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and discard. Remove the stem (and the seeds and ribs too if you don't want it to be spicy). Coarsely chop the peppers and set aside.

2. To make the sauce: Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then stir in the chopped poblanos. Mix in flour, cooking briefly just until golden, 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the broth, adding a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add garlic powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream/yogurt and cilantro.

3. To make filling: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, and cayenne; cook until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Stir in cabbage and carrots [and butternut squash]; cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies start to get tender (about 7-10 minutes).

5. Stir in chipotle peppers.

6. Stir in chopped raw shrimp; cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until the shrimp start to get pink (don't worry about cooking them completely now because they'll finish in the oven).

7. To assemble: Lightly grease a 9- x 13-inch baking dish.

8. Place about 1/2 cup filling down the center of a tortilla. Roll up tightly and place in prepared pan, seam-side down. Repeat with remaining filling and tortillas. [Vegetarian version: sprinkle shredded cheese on the filling before rolling up.]

9. When pan is filled, pour the poblano sauce over the enchiladas.

10. Sprinkle with cheese.

11. Bake until bubbling and slightly golden, 20-25 minutes. At the end, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler for 2-4 minutes (watch them) to get the tops nice and brown. Sprinkle with additional cilantro. Serve immediately.

Related post on Eat. Run. Read.: Mushroom, leek, butternut squash, and barley bake

Pillowy sweet potato gnocchi pairs nicely with the bitterness of kale. (Blue Kitchen)

Time and patience yields delicious homemade gnocchi

By Marion NowakBlue Kitchen / 01.28.14

For most of us growing up in America, Italian food has usually meant Italian-American food, hearty and delicious, but not especially complex or subtle. Increasingly, though, authentic Italian cooking is changing how we think about Italian cuisine. As with French food, there are distinct regional differences, and some of the most memorable dishes are made with a handful of well chosen ingredients, perfectly prepared. Just as important is the sense of hospitality and comfort that is part and parcel to this cuisine.

A dinner at Eataly Chicago made me think about what I like best in Italian food – beautiful food meant to be shared in each other’s company. When we started thinking about a way to convey how much we enjoyed our experience at Eataly, gnocchi came to mind pretty quickly.

In Italy, gnocchi are made from an array of flours or with potato, but here in the United States, most people think of gnocchi as potato based. We’ve made potato-based gnocchi here on Blue Kitchen, but this weekend, we were thinking about a different take – something a little more interesting. Sweet potato seemed the right approach – a warm, rustic flavor that speaks to cozy winter evenings at home with good friends.

Making any gnocchi is a meditative process. It’s not difficult or miserable – it just needs to be done in its own way. You can’t rush it, you can’t skip steps, you need to just relax your mind and enjoy the ride. At the end you have a dish that is at once humble,  beautiful, inviting and convivial. The very essence of Italian cuisine.

Here are four tips for making sweet potato gnocchi (or any potato gnocchi):

1. This recipe takes time. If you want a pasta you can bang out for a quick, tasty mid-week dinner, try this ziti with sausage and fennel or, if you want a dish that is really elegant but you’ve been at the office all day, try duck breasts with raspberries.

2. Bake the sweet potatoes. Don’t boil them or steam them or microwave them. Baking intensifies their flavor and reduces the moisture.

3. Do not skip the part where you drain the ricotta. That takes at least two hours. On the other hand, while you’re waiting, you could watch two episodes of "Orange is the New Black," or you could memorize the Gettysburg Address, or you could practice your latest tap steps.

4. After you make the dough, and before you roll it out, let it rest for five minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to develop, helping the gnocchi hold together better when you are rolling them out and forming them.

Making these is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

(Recipe next page)

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Wilted Kale

Serves 4 to 6 (with leftover gnocchi to freeze for a future meal)

For the gnocchi: 

1 cup ricotta

2 cups baked, mashed sweet potatoes (from about 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1-1/4 to 2 cups flour


For the wilted kale: 

8 ounces kale, ribs removed and torn into small pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. First, put the ricotta in a fine sieve and set it over a large bowl.  Let it drain for at least two hours. Some ricottas will give up a lot of moisture, some will give up only a little.  Don’t worry, be happy.

2. Meanwhile, bake the potatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise, rub them all over with olive oil, and bake them cut sides up on a cookie sheet or pizza pan until they are soft when you pierce them with a fork, about 30 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool completely. When they are cool, scoop the soft flesh out of the skins, measure out 2 cups worth, put in a medium mixing bowl and mash thoroughly so the sweet potatoes are smooth and even. Don’t purée them in a processor or a blender! That will make them gluey. (The skins are edible and super healthy – save them for an informal snack.) Add the ricotta and mix well. Then stir in the beaten egg, salt and grated cheese.

3. Now the dramatic part. Start adding flour. Your goal is pillowy, fluffy, light gnocchi. In making the dough, you need to strike a balance between wetness and dryness.  You may make dough that is very easy to handle, roll, and to cut into pieces, but that dough will most likely yield gnocchi that are bouncy dense rubber balls. For this recipe, I found that about 1-3/4 cups of flour was the right amount. Depending on how moist your ingredients are, you may need more – some recipes with this volume of sweet potato use as much as 2-1/2 cups of flour. This was the gauge I used: the dough was ready it was still sticky, but had formed a soft mass and was starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl – and when, in the next step, I rolled a part of it on the counter top, it willingly formed a rope shape, and then was willing to be cut into pieces that just barely held their pillow shape.

4. When the dough seems to have reached this point, set a timer for 5 minutes and just walk away. Come back when the timer rings, flour a work surface and put the dough on one side of it. Cut it into four equal pieces. Place one of the pieces on the floured surface, lightly flour your hands, and roll the dough into a snake about 20 inches long. If the dough doesn’t cooperate – if it still handles like gunk – then put it all back in the bowl, add a little more flour and gently try again. (Also, when rolling out the rope, do not try to pick it up – it doesn’t have tensile strength.) Cut the dough into pieces about one inch long and set each piece on a lightly floured board, cookie sheet or plate. Each piece will look like a charming little puffy pillow. Do the same with the other three sections. You should have about 50 to 60 gnocchi.

6. Next: the dents. The classic treatment for gnocchi is to roll each one on the tines of a fork to give it the traditional deeply scored lines. I raked a fork across the tops instead. Some cooks prefer to simply dent the gnocchi with a thumb, and next time I am going to try that approach.

7. Once all the gnocchi are prepared, they are ready to cook. At this point, you may freeze some of them for future use (stack them in a freezer bag, interlayered with wax paper).

8. When you are ready to cook them, heat 3 quarts of salted water to a simmer.  Gently slide the gnocchi into the water, about 12 at a time. (If you put them all in at once, the water will stop boiling and the gnocchi will stick together in a hideous mass.)  Some recipes that I looked at call for the gnocchi to be cooked for a minute or less. I just do not get that. I found that anything less than 4 minutes left them raw in the middle.  When the gnocchi begin to float up to the top, test one – cut it in half and taste to see if it is cooked through. Take them out of the water with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl, covering them with foil.

9. Once the gnocchi are all cooked, they are ready to serve. But I thought they had a pale, weird look, so I took one more step, sautéing them for a minute or two in a little butter to lightly brown them. It improved their looks quite a bit and gave them a lovely nutty flavor. Do this step last, just as the kale is finishing cooking.

10. Meanwhile, prepare the kale. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a big, deep nonstick skillet. Add the garlic and shallot and sauté until the shallot is translucent – about 90 seconds. Add the kale and toss with a pair of spatulas so that it is all coated with the olive oil.  Salt lightly. Sauté until the kale has wilted down and cooked through, but is still bright green, about two or three minutes. Scatter the pepper flakes over the kale and continue sautéing for a little longer. Sprinkle on the lemon juice, toss again, and the kale is ready.

Plate by making a bed of the kale, then embedding the gnocchi in the kale.  Six or seven gnocchi is a good serving size.

Kitchen Notes

This simple wilted kale preparation may take the lead on its own for a quick weeknight meal, along with a tubular pasta or brown rice. A little Parmesan cheese wouldn’t be wrong.

These gnocchi also lend themselves to many accompaniments. Many people like them with browned butter and sage. I was really surprised to see how many recipes out there pair sweet potato gnocchi with flavors like maple, cinnamon, honey, and apple cider. Because the gnocchi are so sweet, I recommend steering away from other sweet things and toward flavors that are bitter, like kale or escarole, or earthy and savory, like sautéed mushrooms with garlic butter. Or just simply toss them with some creamy, tangy goat cheese and a good grating of black pepper.

Finally, don’t overthink the flour problem. When you are working with the dough, you’ll see what I mean and it will make sense to you.

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Texas sheet cake is fudgy and delicious. Mix up a pan for National Chocolate Cake Day. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

National Chocolate Cake Day 2014

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 01.27.14

Here's another food holiday I can get behind and one I make an effort to acknowledge each year – Jan. 27 is National Chocolate Cake Day! Is that the best day ever or what? Especially since it gave me the perfect excuse to try out this Texas Sheet Cake from The Southern Lady Cooks.

Texas Sheet Cake or Texas Fudge Cake is my favorite version of chocolate cake. It's easy to make, the taste and texture are sublime, the frosting is also easy to make and adds just the right touch of sweetness to the cake, says the person who normally doesn't like frosting. I never make it in an actual sheet pan because I don't want it too thin and instead always use my 9- x 13-inch pan to get the preferred thickness. The only cautionary note is if you do make it in the smaller pan, don't pour all of the frosting over it since the frosting amount is designed to cover a larger surface area. Instead, I spread only enough to make a thin layer and save the rest for another use.

I love this version of Texas Sheet Cake as much as the other versions I've tried. The texture is soft and moist and the chocolate flavor is superb. And as always, I'm enamored with how easy this is to make. For the frosting, because it's fairly liquid and you don't want to beat it too much, strain it once you've incorporated all of the powdered sugar – this will get rid of any lumps and give you a smooth-textured frosting. Use it immediately and it'll set as the cake itself cools.

Texas Sheet Cake

From The Southern Lady Cooks

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 15- x 10-inch jelly roll pan or a 9- x 13-inch pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Mix well with a wire whisk.

3. In a smaller bowl, combine eggs, vanilla extract, buttermilk and baking soda. Mix well with wire whisk. 

4. In a pan on top of the stove, melt butter, add cocoa and water. Bring to a boil. Remove from stove and pour into flour mixture and mix until all dry ingredients are incorporated. 

5. Add egg and milk mixture and continue mixing just until all ingredients are wet. Pour into prepared pan.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, testing for doneness at 20 minutes. If baking in a 9- x 13-inch pan, it may take a little longer. (I baked in a 9- x 13-inch pan and it took 35 minutes.) Remove from oven and pour frosting over warm cake. 


7 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

3-1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toasted pecans or walnuts, optional

Bring milk, butter and cocoa to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, vanilla and nuts if using. Spread over warm cake immediately.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Mexican chocolate fudge pecan cake

Bulgur wheat makes up the base of this meaty-textured vegan chili. (A Palatable Pastime)

Meatless Monday: Vegan chili

By A Palatable Pastime / 01.27.14

I think it was 1994 when I first made this chili when we were trying out vegetarian cooking. But you have to understand, I am a die-hard carnivore. And I love chili. (I don’t want any vegans reading this to become offended because I do eat meat.)

I developed this recipe because in those days, the usual approach was to make any recipe without meat resemble its meat-filled version as much as possible. People who enjoy meaty foods and eat vegan mainly for health reasons will do better sticking to this type of recipe rather than removing the texture or thought of meat from a recipe altogether.

When eating more vegan foods, I discovered new uses for bulgur wheat, which is the cornerstone of this chili. I find that when it cooks, it kind of looks like ground beef crumbles in there, and if it is not overcooked, can have a chewy, meaty texture. Try this recipe out on friends who swear they must have meat in their chili to enjoy it.

I think a spread of this chili on game day with some veggie burgers will be the ultimate winner. It's just simply a good bowl of chili.

Vegan Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 large white onion, chopped

28 ounces can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

16 ounces can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce

4 ounces chopped green chillies

32 ounces vegetable broth

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 cup chili powder

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cup bulgur wheat

4 cups cooked beans: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc.

1. In a dutch oven heat oil and add garlic and onion; cook until onions are soft, stirring occasionally.

2. Stir in tomatoes, chopped green chillies, vegetable broth, remaining spices, and bulgur.

3. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

4. Add beans to the mixture and continue to cook for another 15-25 minutes or until bulgur is tender.


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Practice your Scottish burr and ladle up some cock-a-leekie soup for Burns Night on Jan. 25. (The Runaway Spoon)

Celebrate Burns Night with Scottish cock-a-leekie soup

By The Runaway Spoon / 01.24.14

January 25 is Burns Night, which celebrates the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Suppers are held across Scotland and by many Scottish societies and clubs around the world. I was challenged by a friend some years ago to host a Burns Night supper and so I did. I put plaid fabric down the table as a runner and had florist make up arrangements of thistle and heather. I tied place cards to miniature bottles of Scotch with plaid ribbon and wore my Scottish family motto kilt pin and pendant (I outgrow the hereditary kilt as a child). I printed out the Burns blessing and forced the challenging friend to read it aloud. I may have even had a recording of bagpipes.

The only difficulty was coming up with a menu, as about the only ting I knew of as Scottish food was haggis, and I wasn’t going there. I made a Scottish dessert of oats and cream and raspberries called Cranachan, and beef tenderloin doused in Drambuie and Neeps and Tatties (turnips and potatoes).  But the real culinary discovery was Cock-a-Leekie Soup.  I can’t remember where I dug up the original recipe, but I have since made it my own, because it is so simple and warming.  It is a unique twist on chicken noodle, full of gentle leek flavor and homey barley.  So now, Burns Night or nay, I make Cock-a-Leekie for pure comfort. And I recommend you do to, because a big, steaming bowl will warm you inside and out.

I may be crossing too many cultural lines here, but it is very good with a hunk of buttered Simple Soda Bread.

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Serves 4

For the Broth:

1 whole chicken, giblets removed

2 leeks

2 carrots

1 celery stalk

1 small white onion

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoons salt

For the Soup:

2 Tablespoons butter

3 leeks

1/2 cup pearled barley

1. Place all the broth ingredients into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and cover with 10 – 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off any scummy foam that rises. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 4 hours. Taste the stock; it should be nice and rich. Simmer a bit longer if you’d prefer.

2. Strain the stock into a big bowl through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth or a tea towel. Pull out all the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, fat and vegetables. Leave the broth to cool and settle, then skim off as much fat as possible. I generally make the stock a day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. It is then easy to remove the fat from the top of the stock. Refrigerate the meat also if you are leaving the soup overnight.

3. When ready to cook, place the barley in a bowl and cover with 1 cup of water.  Leave to soak for at least an hour or until much of the water is absorbed.  Quarter the leeks then cut into thin slivers. Place in a colander and rinse very well. Shred and chop about 2 cups of chicken meat. Remember, you’ll be eating this with a spoon so you want spoon-sized pieces.

4. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven and add the leeks. Cook the leeks over medium heat until they are soft and wilted, then add 8 cups of chicken stock. Add the soaked barley and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, then add the chopped chicken meat. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 20 – 30 minutes until the barley is tender and toothsome.

5. Season with salt and serve nice and warm. You’ll have some extra broth and some extra chicken. Lucky you!

The Burns Blessing

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Simple Soda Bread

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