Inactive Time – May 6

In recipes, the total recipe time is usually divided into active and inactive time. The time spent doing and the time spent waiting. Here are some things to peruse during the waiting time.

The Morning News is not a food website, but they are doing the coolest food series right now. They are sending novelists to dine out and then write something that both is and is not a restaurant review. And this particular review of a noodle shop in L.A. is so incredible. “Dining alone, like dying alone, is totally underrated.” Not alone did I never imagine reading that sentence in a restaurant review, I never imagined reading that sentence anywhere.
http://www.themorningnews.org/article/tsujita-la-artisan-noodle

Lucky Peach has this ongoing series about how food magazines can get you to overspend on food by showing you a $10 version of a dish and then a $100 version of the same basic dish. An important commentary that is, it seems, completely lost on me because all I want is to eat that $100 cheesesteak.
http://luckypeach.com/recipes/10-cheesesteaks/
http://luckypeach.com/recipes/100-cheesesteaks/

There is a lot of talk about food waste right now. This is a good thing to talk about. I am so guilty of wasting food. I am often experimenting with things I have never cooked before and so often buy ingredients that get used once and then sit on a shelf until they expire or produce that I use half of and then forget about. Some of the tips here about ways to use normally wasted food products are amazing. (A use for onion skins? Holy smoke, the number I have wasted.)
http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/cooking-tips/article/cook-with-kitchen-scraps

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Peas

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Where was ricotta gnocchi been all my life?

This is a serious question. A solid gnocchi recipe has been on my wish list for years. Proper gnocchi is one of those foods that can elicit comically inappropriate noises from people. Groans and moans accompanied by fluttering eyelids and lingering licks of the utensils. I have seen it. It is possible. So why can I never get my gnocchi to turn out that way? Every attempt at gnocchi, and there have been several, has produced middling results. Gnocchi that ended up too starchy or too gummy or simply exploded on contact with the water. Nothing that makes you want to run back for a second helping. Certainly nothing that would produce the kind of eating noises that make the people dining at the next table a little uncomfortable. I had written off gnocchi as one of those handful of dishes that were going to forever elude me. Something I would order at restaurants but never enjoy at my own table.

And now this.

Ricotta gnocchi. So freaking easy I still cannot believe it. And the result was fantastic. But really, it was not just the super easy and delicious gnocchi alone. This entire plate is inspired. The recipe came from Bon Appetit, though I made a few modifications to the ingredients based on availability, and I loved the end result so much, I would be hesitant to go back and change anything. There are a lot of steps here. This dish takes a little while. You should expect to spend a solid hour in the kitchen for this. This is something to make when you want to make something special. Though on an average night, you could do this gnocchi prep in very little time and serve it was a nice tomato sauce and that would be just lovely. But when you have the time, do this whole preparation. It is so worth it.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Peas
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Gnocchi

  • One 15 oz. container of whole milk ricotta
  • large egg
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
  • teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil

Sauce

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed*
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed**
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered***
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Fresh chopped chives, grated pecorino romano, and lemon zest (for garnish)

Start by making your gnocchi dough. Lay a stack of paper towels on a baking sheet (three or four depending on thickness). Take the ricotta and lay it out on the paper towels to drain for 20 minutes. [To accomplish this, I chopped the ricotta block into four sections and spread those sections out, each one getting a quadrant of the paper towels. At about the halfway point, I flipped each section over to a dry spot on the paper towels.] When it is done draining, toss the paper towels but hold onto the baking sheet for later in the prep.

When drained, put the ricotta in the bowl of food processor with the egg and the pecorino. Puree until smooth. Add the salt and the black pepper and puree again to incorporate. Add the flour and pulse just until combined. Do not overmix. Take the dough and load it into a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch tip. (If you do not have a pastry bag, you can use a ziplock bag and cut a hole in the corner, but do not cut the hole until you are ready to use the dough.) At this point, your dough can be refrigerated until needed, up to a day. (If you are storing the pastry bag in the fridge, be sure to cover the tip. Or better yet, put the whole thing in a plastic bag or tupperware container.)

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook your asparagus for one to two minutes, just until it turns a deep green. Remove from the water (I used a pair of tongs) and plunge into a ice bath. Remove from ice bath and cut into one inch pieces on the diagonal. Set aside.

Now, time to cook the gnocchi. Using the same pot of water, reduce the temperature so that the water is at a simmer. Take the baking sheet, lightly oil it and set it next to the pot. Take the pastry bag and a paring knife. Pipe the dough directly into the simmering water, cutting off dough in one inch pieces using the knife. (The back side of the knife actually works better than the sharp side. And be careful of hot water splashing up!) You will want to do this in batches of about a dozen pieces. (The trick here is that you want to get enough in to constitute a batch but you want them all to finish cooking at about the same time. I found that this resulted in about a dozen gnocchi each time and about six batches total.) It takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook and is cooked once it has puffed up and is bobbing around on the surface nicely. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked pieces and lay them on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat until you have cooked all the gnocchi. Take the pot of water off the heat. Remove about a half cup of the cooking liquid from the pot and set aside.

On to the sauce. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring for about three to five minutes, until mushrooms begin to soften and brown. Add shallots and a generous pinch of fine sea salt. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened and translucent. Now add the asparagus, peas, cooked gnocchi and remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan. Add a splash of the cooking liquid. (More if you like a soupier sauce.) Cook for a minute or two until the butter melts and the sauce thickens, stirring throughout.

After plating, add some chopped chives, grated pecorino and lemon zest to each dish. (You can add salt and pepper to the finished dish, but I did not find them necessary. The chives were the pepper. The pecorino was the salt. All was balanced as it should be.)

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* Do you trim your asparagus with a knife or snap the hard ends off by hand? I recommend snapping the hard ends off. You are always sure that way to remove all the woody part and it is just satisfying on a tactile level.

** You could use fresh peas as well here, but frozen work just fine. I set mine in a small colander and ran them under warm water for a minute to thaw them, then set them aside until I needed them.

*** The original recipe called for morels here. I will definitely upgrade the mushrooms to morels if I can get my hands on some, but man, they are hard to find and pricey. In the meantime, crimini mushrooms did the job just fine.

Green Machine Smoothie

For me, healthy breakfast eating is a seasonal thing. I mean, I try to balance my diet and get enough fiber and leafy greens throughout the year, but breakfast in the winter tends to lean heavily on pastries and granola and omelets. More fortifying fare. When spring is sprung, the blender comes out and the smoothies start.

I admit that I am not all that advanced in my smoothie making. I don’t keep jars of whey protein and flax lying around. (Okay, I do have flax somewhere in my pantry, but its obviously behind something big because I haven’t seen it in awhile.) I tend to be very simple in my smoothie prep. Whenever the bananas on my counter have nicely ripened, I throw a few in some baked goods and the rest go in the freezer for smoothies. So the usual smoothie consists of frozen banana, a handful of another fresh or frozen fruit, some almond milk, some honey or vanilla, and a handful of leafy greens (preferably kale, but spinach also does the trick and I am more likely to have extra spinach on hand as I tend to scarf kale down like I have a vitamin D deficiency). Puree and presto smoothie. Easy. The hardest part is cleaning the blender. (And sometimes that is enough to torpedo the whole effort. My blender has super sharp little blades and I have stabbed myself cleaning that thing so many damn times. The thought of it brings the smoothie making to a dead halt like half the time.)

This week has been the spring cleaning week and in the back of my mind, I knew that meant I should forsake my morning donut run and have a smoothie instead. Internal negotiation ensues in which I promise myself that next winter I am allowed to teach myself to make donuts. And cannoli. Okay, negotiation over. Ugh, but no, I keep reading all these articles about the drought and how I should be using less almond milk. (Also, how hipsters are ruining the world. Which I don’t get. Their whole aesthetic is based on recycling. So they overdo it on the trendy foods. Give them a break.) So, I need to modify my smoothie approach. Next week. Those blender blades are grinning at me. I’m not cleaning that thing yet.

Later, I am plummeting down one of those internet rabbit holes. You know, where you go online to double check the ingredients you need to purchase for dinner and end up reading the entire personal history of Martha Stewart on Wikipedia (Who is such a complex and fascinating person that I am half convinced she is actually fictional. I mean she was a model who married new money and decorated her way to an empire and then was jailed for rich people crimes that no one with a penis ever gets jailed for. Put her in a toga and I swear you could transpose this all to Ancient Rome with almost no effort.) and then clicking on one of those embedded links and going down a weird Yankees burrow (she babysat for Mickey Mantle’s kids so clicked on Mantle’s name then down the hole I went) before finally emerging having forgotten the initial ingredients I went online to confirm and having to go back to the original website. And back on Martha’s website, I see a link to this smoothie recipe at the bottom of the page. With a video. Procrastinator heaven is made of internet videos.

So, the recipe was packed full of good things (with no almond milk) so I decided to give it a spin. It makes a giant blender full of green goodness. The flavor is on point. My only real issue was with the texture. This is why stores serve smoothies with straws. After a bit, the chunks settles at the top and the texture gets all screwed up. And I am not a “stand at the sink and pound the smoothie” person. I am a “take the glass with me into the bedroom while I decide what to wear” person. I solved this problem by using a butter knife to give it a stir every now and then. Not the most elegant solution, but I’m not buying straws.

Mission accomplished. High intensity smoothie making commencing. (There is another one with the same name on Martha’s website that uses avocado and apple. I will have to try that one.)

Green Machine Smoothie
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/2 cup chopped pineapple *
1/2 cup chopped mango
1/2 cup fresh parsley sprigs
6 romaine leaves, chopped
4 kale leaves, chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped **
1 1/2 cups water

Add the chopped pineapple and mango to the blender. Add the water. Add the parsley, ginger and half the romaine leaves. Puree bring the volume down. Add the remaining romaine leaves and the kale. Keep pureeing until you reach the desired consistency. (You can add a few ice cubes if you are so inclined.)

This recipe makes two big glasses of smoothie. (I stuck the blender with the second glass full of smoothie in the fridge overnight and gave it a a quick puree the next morning to get the proper consistency back. It was perfectly good.)

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* I did not buy a whole pineapple. In the greens section, they have that refrigerated case with pre-cut fresh fruit. I did all the other fruit and veggie chopping but I gave myself a break with the pineapple.

** I also gave myself a break with the ginger. I have a jar of minced ginger from the Asian foods section of the market. I used a teaspoon of that instead of chopping fresh ginger.

Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno

If you say cauliflower, you will have my attention. I came to cauliflower late in life but it has become one of my very favorite things. And I am always looking for new ways to prepare it. So when I saw this recipe in the New York Times, I was interested but my interest waned a bit as soon as I saw the word “capers”. Ugh.

Now, I don’t hate capers but capers just don’t do it for me. Usually, they are one small note in a larger profile so I am fine to have them linger in the background. But with a dish like this, the few ingredients are usually all essential elements. Take one out and the whole dish falters. So, how do I lose the capers and keep the basic flavor profile intact? I decided to double the amount of lemon zest and add a teaspoon of white wine vinegar. I also decreased the amount of cheese. Not to make up for the absence of capers. I just didn’t want that much cheese. I was aiming for light spring dish, not fortifying winter put-a-brick-of-cheese-in-me dish.

The resulting dish will definitely be coming back into my rotation. Very light and flavorful but it is the great textures at work here that really make it sing. Some noodles are soft and some are all crackled and crunchy. There are toasty bread crumbs and I am glad that the cauliflower does not get overcooked. And bonus! It actually reheats nicely in the microwave. I drizzled a little olive oil in the leftovers and stuck them in the microwave for a few minutes and all the textures were still working. That doesn’t always happen so I’m really pleased when it does.

Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno
(Adapted from the New York Times)

  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 medium cauliflower, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon capers, coarsely chopped (extremely optional)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped sage, plus a few sage leaves left whole
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest*
  • ounces coarsely grated or finely cubed fontina**
  • 2 ounces finely grated Romano cheese
  • ½ cup coarse dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Cook the rigatoni in well-salted water according to package directions, but drain while still quite al dente. Rinse pasta with cool water, then drain again and set aside.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut cauliflower in half from top to bottom. Cut out tough core and stem any extraneous leaves. Lay cauliflower flat side down and cut crosswise into rough 1/4-inch slices. Break into smaller pieces.

Put 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over high heat. Add cauliflower slices, along with any crumbly pieces, in a single layer. You will need to do this in batches. Let cauliflower brown and caramelize for about 2 minutes, then turn pieces over to brown the other side. Cook for another 2 minutes. Set browned cauliflower aside in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining batches of cauliflower. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped sage, sage leaves and lemon zest to the bowl and stir to coat. (And yes, this is where you would add the capers if you were insistent upon doing such a thing.) Add cooked rigatoni and fontina and toss.

Transfer mixture to a lightly oiled 9×13 baking dish. Top with Romano cheese, then with bread crumbs and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until top is crisp and golden. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley before serving.

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* I never imagined that I would use my microplane as much as I do. In fact, I use it so much that I have two of them and they are both always in the dishwasher. I am constantly using it to zest fruit and finely grate hard cheeses. It is just so frigging handy. (Also, fun fact, it was originally designed as a woodworking tool before it got appropriated for kitchen use. I really want to meet the person who first saw someone doing detail work on a table leg and had the idea to take that tool and use it on fruit.)

** I actually find that the texture of fontina does not lend itself to grating. It is a little too pliable. I usually take the wedge of fontina, cut it into slices and then further chop those into little cubes. Much easier and cleaner than grating it and it melts nice and evenly that way.

Banana Buttermilk Gelato

The other day, I was telling my friend Claire about my new gelato machine. My beautiful new gelato machine which was at that very moment being shipped to my doorstep so that I could make buckets of real, no fooling, Italian-style ice cream. She asked what I would be making for my first gelato and I said, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe a straciatella, something simple to start with, nothing fancy.” Okay, so first of all, listen to what a food snob I am! Straciatella is chocolate chip. Good grief. And second, I am going to make a simple gelato for my first batch? Really? It’s like I’ve never even met me.

So, back to this gelato machine. Now, I already have a countertop ice cream maker with a bowl that goes in the freezer. It has been my tried and true compatriot for many years now. I love that thing and it is not going anywhere. But in researching the difference between ice cream and gelato (small window into my spare time), I discovered that one of the key factors is how it is churned. You need less air getting into mixture. My countertop ice cream maker would never get it right. I would need a completely different machine. Damnit.

I hemmed and hawed. I researched. I thought, yeah, one day. And then I bit the bullet. The DeLonghi GM6000 Gelato Machine now sits on my counter. Oh my.

The machine came with a recipe book. I figured this was the best way to get the proportions right for my first go-round. It is a smaller bowl than my ice cream maker so my normal preparations would be too large for this batch. I flipped through the booklet and saw Banana Gelato. I happened to have six blackened bananas sitting on my countertop. Oh, I should put some of those in the freezer. Just a moment….okay, we’re back.

Now, the recipe instructed me to combine half the sugar, banana pulp and lemon juice in a blender and then mix in the cream, milk, vanilla and remaining sugar. Very simple. Too simple. I mean, why would you just blend the sugar and banana when you could cook them on the stove top first until they were all caramelized and gorgeous? And why would you only use white sugar when you could do half white and half brown? And I have buttermilk that only has a few more days of value. Some decisions just make themselves.

And the result…is pretty damn good. It was a little icy, which I think was because I did not let my mixture chill enough before putting it into the machine. Lesson learned. But I am going to have some fun with this machine. I can tell already.

Banana Buttermilk Gelato

Two ripe bananas
1/3 cup light brown sugar*
Juice of one lemon**
1/3 white sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk, well shaken***
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste****

Peel and slice two ripe bananas. (I remove half the peel and use the other half as my mini-cutting board to slice the banana. Especially with ripe bananas that are a bit mushy.)

Put the bananas in a small saucepan with the brown sugar and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar melts and has a few minutes to bubble and caramelize. Pour mixture into a blender and add lemon juice. Blend until smooth.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, white sugar and vanilla bean paste until smooth. Pour in the banana mixture and stir to combine. Taste it. Make your decisions about levels of sugar and lemon and adjust mixture accordingly.

Chill your mixture, either by refrigerating for an hour or two or stirring over an ice bath for fifteen minutes.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker (or brand new gelato machine!) and churn according to manufacturer instructions. (Try not to hover over the machine staring the entire time. Or do. I felt reasonably okay about doing so.)

The only way to determine if your gelato has achieved proper consistency is to taste it. (No, really, there is noooooo other option. You must.) When it is finished, pour it into a container and stick in the freezer.

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* Did you know how easy it is to make brown sugar if you have white sugar on hand? Light brown sugar is one cup of white sugar plus one tablespoon of molasses. Dark brown sugar is one cup white sugar plus two tablespoons of molasses. You can mix it together by hand or in an electric mixer (so much easier). Unfortunately, I know of no way to help you if you need white sugar and only have brown sugar. In that circumstance, I think you need to find a store.

** Ugh, I absolutely hate that recipes are always saying “Juice of one lemon” as if every lemon were the same size and contained the same amount of juice. Be specific! So, uber kitchen nerd that I am, I like to measure the juice of each lemon that I am using so I know what I am using for next time. (And by “like to” I mean I just decided today to start doing that from now on.) I have a little shot glass that is actually a tiny measuring cup and measures liquid teaspoons and tablespoons. It is adorable and super useful and I have no idea where I got it. But I can tell you that the lemon that I used today had 2 1/2 tablespoons worth of juice in it.

*** If you want to make this and don’t have any buttermilk on hand, did you know you can make your own buttermilk in about fifteen minutes? Combine one cup of milk with one tablespoon lemon juice and let stand for 10 – 15 minutes until it curdles slightly. (The longer you let it stand, the thicker it will be, though I have never gotten it to achieve the thickness of store bought buttermilk.)

**** I have spoken of my great love for vanilla bean paste, which is especially fabulous in ice cream, but yes, you can use vanilla extract here.

Final thought: I hate myself for not adding some salt here. The gelato recipe booklet did not say anything about salt, but how, HOW could I have not thought to add any? Next time, I am adding at least a pinch of salt. Maybe even a 1/4 teaspoon. Also, maybe some dark chocolate chips. Oh, so many possibilities.

Chilaquiles

Once the idea to make chilaquiles comes into my head, it goes beyond craving. It becomes some sort of moral imperative. My life will be better if I eat a big plate of these immediately. It just will.

If you are unfamiliar with chilaquiles, then let me explain. Chilaquiles are corn tortilla wedges cooked in a spicy tomato sauce and usually topped with eggs and cheese. They can also be served as a breakfast side dish along with eggs, potatoes and toast (which is how I was introduced to them).

Chilaquiles is a very simple dish with a lot of steps, but the various steps are worth it for this final product. However, there are times where you need chilaquiles now. NOW. And the more involved steps can wait for another time. So, I present this recipe with some variations so you can ramp up the preparation as time, energy and craving allow. If you have time to make the full on version, oh mama get ready for some good eating.

There are three basic components to chilaquiles: the sauce, the tortillas, the eggs.

THE SAUCE

GOOD – Grab a 15 oz can of crushed tomatoes, two chiles (from a can of chiles in arbol sauce), a small white onion, and a heaping teaspoon of crushed garlic (from a jar of crushed garlic). Coarsely chop the onion and put everything in a blender. Puree until smooth.

BETTER (my standard sauce preparation) –  Grab a 15 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, two chiles (from a can of chiles in arbol sauce), a jalapeno, a small white onion, two to four cloves of fresh garlic (depending on their size), and vegetable oil. Separate the whole peeled tomatoes from the sauce. Put the tomatoes in the blender with ½ cup of the sauce from the can and the two chiles. Puree until smooth and set aside. Finely chop the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil into the pan and heat over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and jalapeno and cook for another minute. Add the mixture to the blender and blend with the tomato puree. Add the puree back into the saucepan with a glug of oil and cook for five minutes or so, until sauce has nicely thickened. Then take off the heat and add a pinch of salt. (Taste for sweetness. If the sauce is not sweet enough, you can add up to a tablespoon of honey or agave to your taste. I rarely do this, but it depends on the quality of the canned tomatoes.) Set aside.

NOTE: I have a dream that one day I will make this sauce with slow roasted heirloom tomatoes and garlic confit, and I suspect that when I do, I will not find that the fancy heirloom sauce has anything on the canned tomato version and it will have all been a complete waste of time. But I will probably still do it. For reasons.

THE TORTILLAS

GOOD – Buy a bag of good quality tortilla chips.

BETTER – Buy a bag of corn tortillas and cut each tortilla into quarters. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Lay a few paper towels on a plate next to the stove. In batches of four of five, lightly fry the tortilla wedges until they have just colored a little and gotten slightly crispy. You do not want to fry them to crunchy tortilla chip consistency. You want them to remain pliable so they will soak up the sauce. When finishing frying, pile on plate to drain.

NOTE: I never make these with tortilla chips. Even when I take every shortcut with the sauce, I always take the time to fry the tortillas. It is so much better. But I do have a friend who felt it important to tell me once that for her pouring a jar of salsa into a bag of tortilla chips basically got the job done. To each her own.

LAYERING OF SAUCE AND TORTILLAS

Turn your broiler on to high. Layer your chips (store bought or homemade) into a shallow baking dish or pie plate (I prefer a pie plate), pouring sauce over each layer. Once all the chips are in the plate, pour any remaining sauce over the whole thing. Sprinkle grated cojita cheese over the top and stick under the broiler on high heat for about five minutes, but watch it carefully, you don’t want anything to blacken or burn. (Unless you do, I’m not here to tell you how to eat.) Once the cheese has melted and browned, remove the pan from the oven and turn off the broiler. Let the dish cool for a minute.

THE EGGS

While the layers are in the oven, make your eggs.

GOOD – Using the same skillet that was used to fry the chips, fry two eggs (or more if making for more people), flipping them halfway through cooking, and set aside.

BETTER – Using a clean skillet, heat the skillet over high heat for one minute. Add a glug of olive oil and let it heat until it just begins to smoke, another 30 seconds. Add your egg, reduce the heat to medium-high, and step back. Everything will sputter and spit. (This egg preparation is not listed under better because it is more time consuming to cook. It is because it is more time consuming to clean up afterwards.) After 30 seconds, spoon some of the oil from the sides over the white of the egg. Egg white should bubble and cook. After another 30 second, remove from the heat. Shimmy a thin metal spatula under the egg and set the egg aside. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with second egg. (Yes, the egg never gets flipped and gets super crispy on one side and just set on the other.)

NOTE: I have a completely wonderful little six inch cast iron pan that is the exact perfect size for frying a single egg. It is amazing and I use it for all kinds of cooking and prep work. I highly recommend getting one, especially for single folks. It also makes a perfect one person frittata. Commercial over.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

After the dish has cooled, use a spatula to help slide the contents of the pie plate on to a regular plate. Top the pile of saucy chips with the two eggs along with a few dollops of sour cream and some chopped cilantro. Promptly devour everything on plate.

NOTE: If you are sharing this dish (which I rarely do but, again, to each her own), you can use the spatula to portion out the saucy chips onto separate plates and top each with their own fried egg.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

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STOP EVERYTHING AND MAKE THESE COOKIES RIGHT NOW.

I had not anticipated baking anything this weekend. No time, no energy, no desire. Until I found myself late Friday night craving something chocolate and looking for a way to make something simple and quick with the few ingredients I had on hand. I was exhausted, but sometimes you just need chocolate.

I had flagged this recipe some time ago and never made it, but it looked quick. You whisk together your dry ingredients. You whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla. You melt chocolate and butter together. You add the chocolate to the eggs. Then you fold in the dry. Then you take balls of the dough and roll them in two different kinds of sugar.

It came together quickly. Nothing had to sit out to achieve room temperature. It required separate bowls for the three mixtures — the eggs and sugar, the chocolate and butter, and the dry ingredients — which is one more bowl than I usually care for but it wasn’t a deal breaker. The longest step was the 10 minutes of resting before the final assembly, but I just used that time to wash the dishes that I dirtied making the dough.

The most labor intensive part was rolling the dough in the sugar, which was a little messy and required dirtying two more bowls. (In my heart, I want everything to require only one bowl and one spoon because I aspire to economy in all things. I will accept the word laziness in place of economy there.) When I went to roll the dough in sugar, I thought I had made some grave error. Even after resting for ten minutes, the dough was like brownie batter. How could I possibly roll this dough in sugar? And I discovered that you really don’t. You drop some dough into the granulated sugar, shake it around until it is coated and then you can shape the dough into a nice round little ball and coat it in the powdered sugar.

The whole process was over so quickly that I wondered if these cookies could possibly be any good. Shouldn’t a truly good cookie require a little more effort? Could a process this quick and dirty really result in something exceptional? I am happy to report that yes, yes it can. The texture of these cookies is so surprising. Fluffy and moist with a rich chocolate flavor. And they are exactly sweet enough without being cloying.

I was not joking before. Review the ingredient list below, get anything you are missing from the store, and then make these cookies immediately. You have been waiting your whole life for these cookies. You just didn’t know it.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) high quality unsweetened cocoa powder*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed (10 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
3 large eggs**
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) white sugar (preferably superfine)***
1/2 cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

Instructions

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon baking mats.

2. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in bowl.

3. Whisk eggs in large bowl until well combined. Then add brown sugar and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

4. Combine chocolate and butter in bowl and microwave until melted,1 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Slowly pour the chocolate mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly as you do so, until the chocolate mixture is incorporated into the eggs.

6. Fold in flour mixture until no dry streaks remain. (You may be tempted to use the whisk rather than dirty another utensil. Don’t do it. The final dough it too thick for a whisk. Use a wooden spoon.)

7. Let dough sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

8. Place granulated sugar and confectioners’ sugar in separate shallow dishes. Using two teaspoons, scoop up a heaping teaspoon of dough and use the other spoon to drop dough ball directly into granulated sugar and roll to coat. The dough is way too sticky to handle until it has this first layer of sugar coating. After it has been coated, you can form it into a ball and transfer the ball of dough to the bowl of confectioners’ sugar and roll to coat evenly. Place ball of dough on baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 cookies evenly spaced on each sheet.

9. Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until puffed and cracked and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Let cool completely on sheet before serving.

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* Use the highest quality cocoa that you can. This is the time to break out your extra dark cocoa or the good Valrhona cocoa powder. The original recipe called for four teaspoons of instant espresso powder to be added the eggs and sugar mixture. I did not do this as coffee added to baking recipes enhances the cocoa flavor and I used an extra dark high quality cocoa powder that didn’t need any help. If you are using a lower end cocoa, you might want to add that espresso powder back in.

** When I first made this, I wanted to make a half portion and had to research how the heck to do that when the recipe calls for three large eggs. Turns out that one large egg equals three tablespoons. So I cracked two eggs into the bowl, whisked them together, and then removed 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture, successfully achieving 1 1/2 large eggs.

*** I got all the way to end of this recipe before realizing that I did not have any granulated sugar in my kitchen. I did however have some fancy mascobado cane sugar lying around and used that instead. It was lovely. If you have access to some, I highly recommend it. UPDATE: And after making these again with regular sugar, I am even more convinced that mascobado or even superfine sugar is a better fit here and I have modified the ingredients list accordingly.

Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream

I do not think I ever ate Butter Pecan Ice Cream as a child. If I did, I have no memory of it, but I suspect that I did not. I had a pretty narrow palate as a child. Which is the nice way to say that I was a fanatically picky eater. The narrow palate (aka childish fear of new foodstuffs) stayed with me well into adulthood. It wasn’t until I started cooking that my palate expanded. New food scared me a lot less when I had control over it. Now, I’ll try just about anything, especially if I get to make it myself.

So my first memory of eating Butter Pecan Ice Cream was the first time that I made some. I remember being impressed at what a sneaky spoonful it was. The full flavor doesn’t hit you right away. It comes in waves. First the cream, then the butter, then the sugar, and finally the pecans. The first time that I made it, I served it was peaches painted with butter and cooked on the grill and a shot of bourbon on the side. It still ranks among the best desserts I have ever made.

But I am not here to rest on my laurels. (Side note: When it was originally coined, that phrase was complimentary. Someone rested on their laurels when they had earned the right to do so and good for them. It was somewhere around the 19th century that it took on a disapproving edge. I really want to bring back the old meaning. I want people to call and ask me what I’m doing on Friday night and I will say, “Nothing, I’m gonna stay in and rest on laurels.” Okay, side note over. Thanks for sticking with me there.) No resting on laurels! I thought of two simple ways to take this ice cream up a notch. First, brown the butter. Second, candy the pecans.

Okay, I did not get what the big deal was with browned butter at first. Largely because I kept making a rookie mistake and burning it. Burnt butter is no good, no good at all, why would you eat that? But then I learned a simple trick. The butter burns easily because it starts browning after it foams up, making it difficult to see how brown the butter has actually gotten. So, as soon as you think maybe the butter has browned enough, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter off into a non-reactive dish. If it wasn’t quite there yet, you can pour it back in the pan and cook it a little more, but immediately removing it from not just the heat source but the hot pan will keep it from burning. And properly browned butter, where the milk solids have separated and turned amber, is a thing of genius.

So, browning the butter seemed like a no-brainer as far as kicking this ice cream into high gear. It was the candied pecans I was worried about. Would that be overkill? There is a fine line with desserts. It doesn’t take much to make it too sweet, too rich. Do I really need to take this step? I wasn’t convinced, even though this particular method for candying nuts, based on a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, always yielded such amazing things. I decided to try. Since the nuts didn’t go in until the very end, I could make the nuts and the ice cream base and taste the two together before I combined them. If it was a total failure or cloyingly sweet, I could just leave the candied nuts for other things and add some plain roasted pecans to the ice cream. So that is what I did. As soon as the ice cream finished churning, I took a spoonful and dropped a few candied nut pieces on top and took a bite. And immediately dumped the rest of the nuts into the ice cream because holy smokes this is seriously good.

Browned Butter Pecan Ice Cream
(Adapted from Tasting Table)

6 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
¾ cup candied pecans, chopped (see recipe below)

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to foam. Once it begins to foam, stir constantly,scraping any solid bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the solids brown and turn an amber color, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a non-reactive bowl. (I use a pyrex measuring cup here.) Set aside to cool.

Whisk together egg yolks and set aside.

Combine 1 cup heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until sugar melts but do not let it boil. Using a metal small measuring cup or ladle, add the warm mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until you have added about half the milk mixture to the eggs. Then pour that back into the saucepan and cook, whisking constantly.* Cook the custard until it thickens. (If you have a good thermometer, cook until it registers 170 degrees. If not, you want to cook it until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Dip the spoon and then run a finger across the back. If a clear line appears, it is done. Take pan off heat and set aside.

Pour remaining cup of cream into a bowl set over an ice bath. Set a mesh trainer over the bowl and pour the custard in. Stir the mixture over the ice bath until it cools. Then put it in the refrigerator to finish chilling. (I usually give it at least a few hours. The longer it chills, the better the texture.)

Once the ice cream has finished chilling, churn it in the your ice cream maker for 20 to 30 minutes, until it reaches the desired texture. Then pour it into storage container and stir in chopped pecans. Freeze at least three hours before serving.

* If you have a silicon whisk, this is the place to use it. A silicon whisk won’t damage the saucepan. If you don’t have a silicon whisk, then you can use a wooden spoon.

Candied Pecans
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 lb. pecan halves
1 egg white**
1 tablespoon warm water

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees and line a 9×9 square cake pan*** with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, salt, paprika and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg white and water together with a fork until it foams slightly and stiffens.

Place the pecans in a large bowl. Add egg white mixture and stir to coat the pecans. Add the sugar mixture and stir to coat.

Spread the nuts out in the cake pan and roast for 30 minutes, stirring at 15 minutes and again as soon as they come out of the oven. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes and then dump into a bowl and break apart clumps.****

** Reserve the egg yolk for use in the ice cream base.

*** The original recipe for these nuts appeared on Smitten Kitchen and she encouraged that you spread the nuts out onto a baking sheet and avoid crowding. I completely disagree on this point. Crowd these nuts onto a smaller sheet! You need to stir them more often when roasting them but the result is a better spice coating on the finished nuts.

**** This recipe creates many many more nuts than you need for the ice cream, but the nuts are amazing. Eat them on their own or sprinkle them on your oatmeal.

Inactive Time – March 12

In recipes, the total recipe time is usually divided into active and inactive time. The time spent doing and the time spent waiting. Here are some things to peruse during the waiting time.

Right now, I have no time to make something complicated, which is exactly when my palate is hungering for something complicated exactly like this. Must make soon.

I am making a coffeecake this weekend which means I will have buttermilk on hand which means I am definitely making these Buttermilk Fried Endives and the gremolata to go with them.

McSweeney’s is publishing a new cookbook devoted to Chinese cuisine and asked for volunteers to test recipes here. I volunteered and am awaiting the recipe. Fingers crossed that I actually have time to make whatever they send me.

Serious Eats published this awesome guide to food photography. I am earnestly endeavoring to add photos to this blog. Soon, as soon as I get a better camera and/or cook something in the presence of daylight, it is on.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Zucchini Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

Sometimes my schedule can get a little erratic. I have a very small handful of recipes that I turn to again and again when I know I will have to make a big batch of food that will function as lunch and/or dinner all week long. This is one of those.

I first discovered this recipe on the Food52 website and it has been making regular appearances in my kitchen ever since. Its exactly the kind of salad that I love to make. It tastes fantastic as soon as you put it together but it also stores and travels well. It can be eaten cold or reheated. It pairs well with chicken or fish, but I usually just eat it alone because once I start eating it I don’t want anything else.

Over time, I have made some small tweaks to the original recipe. First, it called for one zucchini but this was not nearly enough in my opinion. Two large sweet potatoes and one zucchini results in a ratio of almost 4 to 1 in the final mix, and while the sweet potatoes are definitely the main player in this salad, that seemed excessive to me. The recipe also called for chopped scallions to be added at the end. They were a nice touch but I swapped them out for some red onion that gets roasted with the potato and then chopped. I also made some changes to the dressing, increasing the amount of olive oil to smooth out the tahini flavor and using crushed garlic instead of sauteed cloves. Probably the biggest change that I made flavor-wise was to add some smoked paprika to the chickpeas. Its a strong addition and too much of it can easily overwhelm a dish, but here it melds nicely with the strong lemon notes.

Whenever I make this, I worry that I’m going to sit down and eat the whole bowl and have no leftovers. But that only happened one time. And I regret nothing.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Zucchini Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing
(Adapted from Food52)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 14 oz. can of chickpeas, drained
1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika*
3 sprigs parsley, leaves removed and finely chopped
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Olive oil

Lemon Tahini Dressing
1/2 teaspoon crushed or minced garlic**
Juice and zest of one lemon***
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Coat the diced sweet potatoes with about a tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Lay them in a single layer on the baking sheet with the quartered onion. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes, stirring once.

While the sweet potato and onion are roasting, make the lemon tahini dressing and set aside.

Put the chickpeas in a skillet and add the paprika. Swirl them around to coat them with the spice. Add a dash of olive oil and heat on medium-high. When the chickpeas start to sizzle a bit, give them a shake to stir them around. Let them heat for about five minutes and then set aside.

When the sweet potatoes are nearly finished, take the onion from the baking sheet and set aside to cool. Add the zucchini to the baking sheet and return to the oven for 10 minutes.

While the vegetables roast, finely chop the parsley and set aside. Take the roasted onion and chop it finely. (Taste it to assess the strength of the flavor. If it is a very strong flavor, you will only need half of it. You can reserve the rest for another use.)

After 10 minutes, turn on the broiler and let the vegetables cook under it for 5 minutes to get some color. (If your oven runs a little hot and the vegetables already have plenty of color, you can skip this step.)

Add the roasted vegetables to the sauteed chickpeas. Mix in the chopped onion and parsley. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

Eat warm.

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* There are generally two kinds of paprika – sweet and hot. Smoked paprika is a specific kind of hot paprika, and if you do not have any in your kitchen, I strongly urge you to get some. A little goes a long way and it is a great addition to so many different dishes.

** In the original recipe, whole garlic cloves were sauteed with the chickpeas and then minced and used in the dressing. In my estimation, this is only worthwhile if you have really fresh garlic, so unless the farmer’s markets are around and I can easily procure some, I take the shortcut and use a jar of crushed garlic.

*** I wondered when I first made this if I really needed a whole lemon and if the zest was really so important. Yes and yes. The lemon flavor is so critical to achieving the balance of flavors. Don’t shortcut this step. In my opinion, it makes the dish.