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Archive for the ‘appetizers/first courses’ Category

This weather. Ugh. It stifles my soul as well as my appetite. It’s over 100°F in Oregon and in Chicago, it’s been heavily raining with that god awful humidity that goes with it for a week now. We’re all drooping. Nothing sounds good. I want cold food that someone else makes because I can’t get up from the couch and that strategically placed fan. And yet … shrimp cocktail sounded good. Not the Costco tray that’s been sitting there god knows how long. No … homemade. That would be easy, right? Make a two-ingredient cocktail sauce and poach some shrimp? No big thing.

Famous last words. I went to buy the shrimp and noticed the seafood counter had some lovely bay scallops and gorgeous cleaned squid too. Then I remembered those crazy delicious seafood cocktails I’ve enjoyed at so many Mexican beachside restaurants and used to make back home for a spell. It had been a while and that sounded SO GOOD and it really is just a zhuzhed up shrimp cocktail so same-same, right? And just like that, my simple recipe became a whole other thing.

These tomato-y sweet spicy types of cocktails are often just shrimp – Coctel de Camarones – but depending on where you are along the coast, you’ll often see other types of shellfish or chunks of fish in the mix. They’re usually served with a sleeve of saltines or a bowl of tortilla chips to dip and scoop and pile on. Back home, my favorite combination is shrimp, scallops and squid but really, it’s usually just whatever looks good, or what I have in the freezer that drives my decisions. 

The key here, and this is where it gets a bit persnickety, is to cook the seafood separately and if I have shrimp shells, I like to make a quick shrimp stock first. I’ve noticed it’s becoming harder and harder to find shell on shrimp these days. So annoying. The shrimp I bought this morning only had tails, grrrrrrrr, so I pulled them off and made a quick stock with them. If you don’t have shells, that’s ok, just add salt to the water and move on. Regardless, the poaching step is the same for all the shellfish – bring the stock/salted water to a boil, turn off the heat, add the shellfish, give a stir, let sit for a few minutes, then into an ice bath. Note: if using squid, it really doesn’t take more than a quick dip in that hot water. Squid, like octopus, is one of those things that needs to be cooked very briefly or for a very very long time. There is no in-between if you don’t want to eat rubber bands.

For the sauce part, I like a sweet-spicy combo so I use tomato juice – V8 actually – and a bit of ketchup. Too much and it’s too sweet for my tastes. A good dose of hot sauce and then crunchy things – red onion and cucumber though you could throw in a bit of celery too. I add diced avocado because when is that not a good idea? It’s important to keep in mind that this is a meal not a drink so it’s on the chunky side with just enough sauce to coat the shellfish; not too sloppy, not too juicy. Mix it all up and you have a delightful snack or light meal. Shake up a margarita, make a michelada or pop a cold beer and you are all set.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: PRETTY LOW STRESS. Nobody has the time nor the energy for something super involved right now. There may be a few steps that you may – or may not – decide to take but overall, it’s a pretty easy, low key kind of recipe. Perfect for the upcoming holiday weekend that is destined to be a scorcher. This is also when you dust off those sundae glasses you got as a wedding present years ago. While you could use pretty much any kind of serving vessel, glass is best to show off all the ingredients and it’s just perfect in an old-fashioned sundae glass. I’m actually shocked I don’t own those. Shocked, I say.

make this for July 4th! Big American Flag Cake

twelve years ago: Cajun Ginger Cookies

eleven years agoRhubarb Custard PieStrawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

ten years ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip CookiesClassic FoccaciaBanana Tarte TatinLate Spring Pea SoupRhubarb Syrup – Hipster CocktailsPuff Pastry Asparagus Spears,  Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie; Lard Crust,Strawberry ShortcakeSweet & Spicy Beer Mustard

nine years ago: Banana Fudge Layer Cake,  Pear Frangipane TartsFresh RicottaRicotta CheesecakeFarro TabboulehStrawberry Hibiscus Popsicles  

eight years ago: Chocolate Bourbon Lard CakeRoasted Asparagus w/Stilton SaucePickled GarlicMorel HuntingFrybread for Navajo TacosButtermilk Panna Cotta with Vanilla Cardamom Roasted RhubarbMexican Chocolate Pudding Pops,  Lime Angelfood CakeRoasted Strawberry SorbetGreek MeatballsPassionfruit Chiffon CakeBBQ Baked Beans

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Parmesan Pea DipPickled Green StrawberriesMango Lassi Freezer PopsEton MessOnion Rye Berry Bread  

five years ago: Smoky Baba GhanoushPete’s Special – Teriyaki Chicken & Vegetable Rice BowlSummer Fruit Ice PopsApricot Date BarsLemon Ricotta Doughnuts for National Doughnut DayVietnamese Flank Steak with Peanut Soba NoodlesDate Shake PopsiclesEasy Home-Cured Bacon, Oven MethodRadish Top Pesto with Sauteed RadishesJulia’s Braised CucumbersSedano e Pomodori (Braised Celery and Tomato)Shaved Asparagus Salad

four years ago: Cold Cucumber Buttermilk SoupGreen Garlic Soup with Poached EggsCold Sesame NoodlesCream Soda SherbetMichelada Style Clams

three years ago: Lemon Elderflower Quatre Quarts (French Pound Cake)The Perfect Light Crispy WafflePeruvian Roast Chicken with Spicy Green SauceChicken Wing Friday … Sticky Northern Exposure WingsLemon Sour Cream PieGreek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

two years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

last year: Chorizo & Cornbread Strada (Savory Bread Pudding)

MEXICAN SEAFOOD COCKTAIL – loosely adapted from this recipe

serves 4 as an appetizer or part of a lighter meal.

I like a mix of shellfish, but you could go with just one type if you like. Because of the different cooking times, it is important to cook each separately but since each only take a few minutes – or seconds in the case of squid – it moves quickly. I also very much prefer to make a quick shrimp stock with the shells but am finding that shell on shrimp are becoming harder to find. If that’s the case, just add the salt and go forward or use the tails as those are usually left on peeled shrimp. If you opt for squid, try to find it already cleaned to save some work but if you must do it yourself, clean the squid and inspect it for featherbones, remove the beaks and ink sacs. Slice into ¼” rings and cut the tentacles in half if overly large. For the hot sauce, Valentina, Cholula or Tapitio work perfectly but use what you have, however, if it’s a particularly spicy brand, go easy at first. 

For the shellfish:

3 ½ cups water

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

Shrimp shells, if you have them

1 ¼ pounds shellfish

  • large shrimp (26-30 per pound), peeled (shells/tails reserved) and deveined
  • bay scallops
  • squid/calamari, cleaned (see note above) sliced into ¼” rings, larger tentacles cut into bite sized pieces.

Ice bath

For the cocktail:

1 ¼ cup V8 or tomato juice, chilled

¼ cup ketchup

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

3 Tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes), plus lime wedges for serving

2 teaspoons hot sauce, plus extra for serving

½ cup English or Persian cucumber, cut into ½” dice

1 cup finely chopped red onion

1 avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into ½” dice

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

For serving:

Saltines or tortilla chips

Lime wedges 

Hot sauce 

  1. for the shellfish: if you have shrimp shells, make a quick shrimp stock by bringing the water and salt to a boil.
  2. Add the shrimp shells (or tails), reduce to a very low boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Strain out and discard the shells and return the liquid to the pot. 
  4. Bring the poaching liquid back to a boil (if you don’t have shrimp shells, bring the water and salt to a boil and proceed).
  5. Prepare an ice bath and set aside then cook the shellfish separately:
    • Shrimp: bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the shrimp, give a stir and let sit off heat for 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
    • Bay scallops: bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the scallops, give a stir and let sit off heat for 5 minutes. Remove the scallops with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
    • Squid/Calamari: this is a quick one. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil then turn off heat. Add the squid, give a stir and let cook off heat for 10 seconds. Remove the squid with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into an ice bath to cool completely.
  6. Remove the shellfish from the ice bath, pat dry then cut into bite size pieces – the shrimp into 3-4 pieces, the scallops in half if large and any large squid pieces into smaller bits if needed. 
  7. For the cocktail: combine V8 or tomato juice, ketchup, lime juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.
  8. Add cucumber, red onion, and cooked shellfish and stir until evenly coated. 
  9. Gently fold in the avocado and cilantro. 
  10. Divide the mix between individual bowls or glasses and serve immediately with saltines, lime wedges, and extra hot sauce.

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I’ve got a real thing for a good tangerine. Mandarins more so. In fact, to be even more specific, satsumas are really my thing. Starting around the holidays, I’ll start pacing the produce aisles of Asian markets and Whole Foods looking for large piles of those bright orange orbs with the telltale leaves and stems. When fresh, they are incredible – bright, full flavored, juicy, sweet but with a little bit of tartness for a wonderful flavor balance. I adore them and will eat as many as I can during the short season.

A few weeks ago, I did a thing. After reading an article in Bon Appetit about a California citrus farm specializing in tangerines, I placed an order. It took a few determined weeks to make it happen but it happened. Orders open up only once a week and as demand is high and supply is naturally limited. They usually sell out quickly, especially early in the season. It was cold and grey outside and I desperately needed a little sunshine. I opted for a variety pack to try a little of everything – a few Valencia oranges, a few blood oranges, three types of amazing tangerines, two gorgeous lemons and the best avocado I’ve had in my life. Ten pounds of beautiful citrus was picked on Saturday and on my kitchen table by Tuesday. It was glorious. The best tangerines I’ve ever had. Next year I’ll get my butt in gear earlier for satsuma season. I’ve got the reminder set in my calendar and am drooling just thinking about it.

I’ve enjoyed most of the shipment as is but with some beets sitting in my produce drawer, I decided to combine the two and make a salad. Roasted beets and fresh citrus are a marvelous combination and so very pretty if you mix up the beet colors. The beets are tucked into foil packets and roasted in a hot oven, as this is my preferred method for best flavor. I’ve never understood why some people boil beets. ugh. The oranges get a sort of fancy treatment called “supreme” in which you carefully separate the flesh from the rind and membranes into nice little segments. Sure it takes a little bit of time but the effort is well rewarded in the end. Take care to cut off the rind and pith, following the curve of the fruit and leaving as much of the orange flesh behind as possible. It does take a little practice; when I worked in restaurants I bet I suprememed a couple cases of oranges every week. You get really good after the first case.

I roasted both red and yellow beets and tossed them in a simple, light vinaigrette type of thing along with both orange and tangerine segments. The dressing is mostly orange juice and vinegar with just a little bit of olive oil so it’s light and bright, perfectly accenting the whole mix. A handful of toasted walnuts went on top because they go great with citrus and beets and the crunch is delightful. I also reached for the za’atar, that wonderful middle eastern spice mixture of thyme, sesame, sumac and other lovely things that is also, coincidentally, amazing on citrus and beets. The whole thing is delicious. Bright and a little earthy, sweet and a little tart, fresh and crunchy. A wonderful combination of all the things.

Fair warning that red beets will stain everything – your hands, your cutting board, every damn ingredient they come in contact. The trick is to lightly oil or spray your hands with cooking spray to prevent this (your cutting board too.) Keep them separate from your other ingredients too, in their own bowl until the last moment, unless you want the salad a lovely day-glow shade of fuchsia.

twelve years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Oatmeal Jam Bars  

ten years ago: Guinness Stout Floats

nine years ago: Chocolate Banoffee Tart

eight years ago: Lemon Tart – Sunday Lunch Polish Easter

seven years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Potato Goat Cheese StrudelChouquette

four years ago: Pici (hand rolled spaghetti), Old School Garlic Bread

three years ago: Easter Recipe Round Up (and some polka favorites) 

two years ago: Sourdough Spätzle

last year: Corned Beef Dinner Hand Pies

ROASTED BEET & ORANGE SALAD

Serves 4 as a side dish

I like to keep this simple, but a soft goat cheese or salty feta crumbled on top is quite nice. Pistachios would be nice though I prefer the earthy slightly tannic flavor of a walnut. Be sure to zest the oranges first.

1 bunch beets (about 1 ½ pounds), scrubbed, trimmed and cut in half or quarters if large

olive oil

kosher salt and ground pepper

¼ cup walnut pieces

2 oranges or 1 orange + 2 tangerines or 4 tangerines (zest first)

For the dressing:

1 teaspoon finely minced shallot, about ¼ of a shallot

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon mild honey, like wildflower or clover

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest 

¼ teaspoon za’atar

Good pinch of kosher salt

Few grinds of ground black pepper

¼ cup fresh orange juice

1 Tablespoon good olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 
  2. For the beets: place the beets on a large piece of foil on a sheet pan (if roasting various colors of beets, keep the red ones separate.)
  3. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. 
  4. Fold foil around beets and crimp ends to form a neat packet. 
  5. Roast until tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 45 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely then peel the skins off with a paring knife (lightly oil your hands if working with red beets to prevent having fuchsia tinted hands all day.)
  7. While the beets are roasting, toast the walnuts on a sheet pan until fragrant, about 5 minutes (keep an eye on them – they’ll go from perfectly toasty to burnt in seconds). If large, coarsely chop once cooled. Set aside until needed.
  8. For the dressing: in a large bowl, whisk together the shallot, orange zest, vinegar, salt, pepper and za’atar. Set aside while you prepare the oranges and beets.
  9. Supreme the oranges: Cut about ½” off the top and bottom of each orange/tangerine to expose the flesh. 
  10. Place the orange/tangerine cut side down on a cutting board and with a chef’s knife, follow the curve of the orange to remove the rind, including the pith (the white part.) Try to cut as close to the pith as possible, reserving as much of the flesh as you can. Discard the rind.
  11. Switch to a paring knife and over a bowl to catch the juice, cut each citrus segment from the membrane by cutting gently on one side of the membrane then the other, carefully removing each segment (discard any seeds as you come across them.) 
  12. Squeeze the remaining membrane over the bowl for any excess juice then discard. Continue with any remaining oranges/tangerines.
  13. Measure off ¼ cup of accumulated orange juice for the dressing. If you don’t quite have enough, give it a few minutes. I’ve found that orange segments will continue to give off juice for a while, so if you wait a bit, you might eventually get what you need. If not, squeeze another orange or tangerine to top it off.
  14. For the salad: thinly slice the peeled beets (about 1/8” thick) and place in a small bowl (keep red and orange/yellow beets separately to prevent everything from turning bright pink. Hint: spray your hands and the cutting board with cooking spray or lightly oil to keep it all from staining.)
  15. Finish the dressing – add the orange juice and olive oil to the dressing bowl and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  16. Add the dressing to the various bowls of things – citrus segments, beets – and gently toss to combine. If using tangerines, take care as they are rather delicate and tend to break apart.
  17. On a serving platter, scatter about the dressed beet slices and orange/tangerine segments. Drizzle any excess dressing over, top with the walnuts and a good pinch of za’atar.
  18. The salad can be made ahead – however, and this is a big however – if you’re using red beets they will turn everything pink. So, if making ahead, keep the red beets separate in their dressing and combine just before serving. 

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So here we are. A whole year later. Who would have thought it would go on this damn long? Like many, I haven’t been to a bar in a year nor a sporting event, a concert or a ballet performance. I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant in over a year. Sure, I’ve done takeout now and again and eaten on two or three patios but I’ve mostly been staying home and cooking. A lot. A LOT. I’ve been making whatever strikes my fancy, whatever I have a taste for, which has been very carb heavy. Every variety of pizza. All the pastas – fresh, dried, filled, rolled. Dumplings. A 5lb lasagna. Bowls of cereal. I went on a tempura bender and lived in fryer oil scented air for weeks. French toast, pancakes, crepes and waffles. I had latkes for dinner 3x one week, because I can. Cooking whatever the hell I’ve wanted has been the only joy I’ve had, the most pleasurable of distractions. I’ve given in to my whims. A few weeks ago, I had a taste for those dumb lettuce cups from P.F. Chang’s. I’ve no idea where that came from as it has been eons since I’ve had them but the thought of crunchy lettuce with a sweet/savory filling was rather appealing. 

There used to be a P.F. Chang’s around the corner from an office I worked in long ago and we’d go occasionally for lettuce cup and sesame noodle lunches. I’m sure there were other things on the menu; we never ordered them. I don’t think I’ve been back since I left that job and don’t have the slightest idea if they’re still around as I’m rather loyal to my local beloved Chinese restaurant. Doesn’t matter really as these lettuce cups are easy enough to make. Incredibly easy, actually.

Hazy memories guided my recipe and I decided there were two key drivers here: crunchy textures and hoisin sauce. The crunch came from celery, water chestnuts, a sprinkling of peanuts and the lettuce (butter lettuce please). The hoisin, a Chinese sort of sweet-ish bbq sauce (often used for those delicious Chinese-style ribs), was the base of my sauce, dark and sticky with hints of star anise. A spoonful makes almost everything better (Koon Chun is the best). Typical additions of soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil and a hit of something spicy, either sriracha or sambal paste rounded out the sauce. I tossed in a little ginger, a little garlic, a few scallions and was happy on the first try.

Now then, the poultry. Let’s discuss. Turkey or chicken is a personal choice and they’re both rather neutral so I’m indifferent as to which you use. Now that I think of it, tofu would also do quite well. I’m sure these are usually made with ground meat and that’s fine but what I greatly prefer is to hand chop chicken breasts or thighs myself. They’re better that way, a little more interesting, a little chunkier and substantial, better to grip the sauce. Sure, buying a packet of ground turkey is easy but chopping it yourself tastes better. Your call.

Then it’s just a basic stir fry – vegetables first, then the chicken, ginger/garlic, finally the sauce to combine and heat through. Piled high in beautiful crunchy lettuce leaves with a sprinkling of peanuts, I was pretty pleased. Nothing too complicated, comes together quickly and all the right flavors and textures are there. Bingo.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: FILLED A NEED. Sometimes, especially when you’re hungry, you just get it into your head that you want something very particular. So you make it happen. I do this often when it comes to food matters, usually to great success, and have learned it’s really not all that difficult. This skill comes in rather handy when you find yourself in a bind, like you know, in the midst of a year long global pandemic. Ah, good times. Crave something? Figure it out.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers, Irish Soda Bread, Stovetop Smoked Salmon, Blood Orange Marmalade

ten years ago: French Onion SoupFresh Paczki (homemade Polish donuts), Chocolate Cabernet SauceChocolate Snack Cake

nine years ago: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin, Irish Oatmeal Pudding, Barley Marmalade SconesOrange Sweet RollsWhatchamacallit BrowniesBaked Cheddar OlivesChocolate Malt Pots de CrèmeChocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes

eight years ago: Shaker Lemon Pie, Irish Whiskey CakesPeanut Butter Swirl BrowniesChocolate Pudding Cake

seven years ago: Brown Bread Ice Cream, Guinness Chicken & Mushroom BoxtyChocolate Cherry Buns

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Bakewell Tart, Everything BagelsGravlax (Cured Salmon)Tuscan Rice Pudding TorteToum and Lamb Chops (Lebanese Garlic Spread)Dark Chocolate Tapioca PuddingChocolate Banana BreadChocolate Mint Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches

four years ago: Pancetta Pea & Ricotta Hand Pies, Guinness Beer BreadBeer Braised Onion & Bacon TartBrown Butter Blueberry Ricotta CakeChocolate Cherry FinancierChocolate Fleur de Sel CaramelsTriple Chocolate Cream Puffs

three years ago: Coconut Chess Pie for Pi(e) Day, Tunnel of Caramel Cake

Ethiopian Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)

two years ago: Guinness Cheddar Biscuits, Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE CUPS

Serves 4

You can certainly use ground chicken or turkey for this recipe, however, I greatly prefer to hand chop boneless skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs for a better texture. To do this, butterfly (cut horizontally) the chicken into thinner cutlets, then cut into long strips and then cut into smaller dice. Diced firm tofu would also be very delicious here.

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pound chicken – boneless breasts, thighs or ground (see note above)

1 onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)

2 celery stalks, diced (about 1 cup)

1 8oz can water chestnuts, drained and diced

2 scallions, sliced (whites + greens)

1 Tablespoon finely minced or grated ginger

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated

¼ cup hoisin

2 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2-3 teaspoons sriracha or sambal chile paste

Butter lettuce leaves, tougher part of the core removed

Chopped peanuts for garnish

  1. In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients – hoisin, soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chile paste. Set aside until needed.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat the half the oil over high until sizzling hot
  3. Add the onion and celery, stirring frequently until softened, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the water chestnuts, stir to combine and push everything to the side of the pan.
  5. In the empty space, add the remaining oil and let heat for a moment then add the chicken and saute until nearly cooked through. 
  6. Stir to combine with the vegetables and add the garlic and ginger and stir fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the sauce ingredients, stirring quickly to combine and heat through.
  8. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped peanuts.
  9. To serve, pile a platter with washed and dried butter lettuce leaves, place the bowl of chicken filling in the center. At the table, pile spoonfuls of the filling into lettuce leaves and enjoy hot, with a sprinkle of additional peanuts if desired.

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It was the Lunar New Year last week, The Year of the Ox. To celebrate I decided to make some dumplings. It was a snowy day, again, and I had a whole lotta nothing going on. A few weeks ago, The New York Times published a recipe by Genevieve Ko for Chile Crisp Dumplings. I adore chile crisp and was intrigued but I’d recently culled down my subscriptions and the NYT food site was one of them. I was unable to breach the paywall to access the recipe so my imagination took over. In my mind, the filling was a rich ground pork, with ginger and garlic and hits of that wonderful magic that is chile crisp. I drooled at the thought. As I later discovered, that’s not at all what they were. After some determined digging, I cracked the NYT code and got to that recipe only to learn the filling consisted of tofu, spinach and celery. Huh. Sounds delicious but it wasn’t at all what I was thinking. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.

My idea got stuck in my head. I obsessed over it, just a little. I get like that sometimes. While wrapping up some leftover tofu one night after teaching a class, the idea further solidified. What about mapo tofu? It’s a dish I order often: ground pork and tofu chunks in a blistering spicy sauce. I had a ton of pork in my freezer, I had tofu and I had a whole bunch of various chile type sauces and things, including some homemade chile crisp. This could be interesting. So I did it.

To a nice fatty ground pork (scoff if you will but that fattiness makes a luscious dumpling) and diced tofu I added various aromatics – garlic, ginger, scallions, Shaoxing wine and then came the chilies. Chile crisp, of course because that’s where this whole idea started, and in the spirit of mapo, tobanjan (a fermented spicy bean paste) and fermented chili bean paste (often referred to as mapo sauce). It was spicy, but not overly so, more a pleasant zing. Wonderful.

I also opted to make homemade dumpling wrappers as they’re not all that difficult – two ingredients! – and I had the time. I should be honest and admit that the decision was heavily influenced by the fact that my little car has been stuck in an ice floe for weeks and likely won’t be free until sometime in July. A quick trip to the Asian market for dumpling skins just wasn’t in the cards. Besides, I greatly prefer the wonderful toothsome texture of a homemade wrapper. They’re so much better so it was a happy compromise. The recipe is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings” and comes together very easily though I roll/cut it a bit differently than she directs. 

A quick note about chile crisp. It is the wonder condiment everyone is talking about – chilies, fried shallots and garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts, ginger. It is strangely addictive and good on everything. You can purchase the Laoganma brand in any Asian market, there are several specialty brands available online or you can make your own, which I highly recommend. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: BUSY HANDS. It’s no great secret that I love a project. Rolling and folding homemade dumplings is right up there at the top. It’s not overly difficult but it does take a fair bit of time and attention so it’s perfect when you need a distraction but more importantly, when you need to feel like you’ve accomplished something. This one fits the bill perfectly. I find great satisfaction in fat, pretty little pleated dumplings lined up on a pan, waiting to be seared off or stashed in the freezer for a later treat. I like knowing that they are there, in the depths of my freezer, for some later comfort even though I’m trying hard to keep from putting more things in my freezer. I like knowing that as temperatures drop in the coming weeks, I can easily pull 6 or 8 or 10 plump little fiery dumplings from my freezer and have a little treat that will warm me from the inside. I just like everything about it.

twelve years ago: Khachapuri (cheesy Georgian bread)

eleven years ago: Won Ton Soup

ten years ago:  Dark Chocolate TartChocolate Ganache Tart

nine years ago: St. John Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

eight years ago: Peppermint Patty BrowniesChocolate Raspberry Tart

seven years ago: Dulce de Leche FondueChocolate Linzer Cookies

six years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies

five years ago: Orange Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Candied ClementinesMexican Chocolate Poundcake

four years ago: Chocolate Cardamom Shortbread HeartsDark Chocolate Pudding

three years ago: West African Puff Puffs

two years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate Sour Cream Ice Cream

last year: Dirty Chai Cookies

SPICY MAPO TOFU DUMPLINGS – the dumpling dough is from the wonderful Andrea Nguyen’s book “Asian Dumplings”

Makes about 3 ½ dozen

While you can certainly used purchased dumpling wrappers, I urge you to make your own. Sure they’re a little time consuming but no more so than say, a pie crust. The texture is far superior so I think the effort is well worth it. The different chile sauces will require a trip to an Asian market but don’t let that stop you from making this recipe. If you want to skip those, use more chile crisp. Do not skip that. You need chile crisp in your life. Trust me. If you need a better idea of how to fill and pleat a dumpling, I have some photos and a more detailed explanation in my potstickers post.

4 oz firm tofu, drained

½ pound fatty ground pork, preferably pork butt 

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup minced peeled fresh ginger 

½ cup finely chopped scallions (about 3)

1-2 Tablespoons chili crisp

1 Tablespoon tobanjan (fermented broad-bean paste) 

2 Tablespoons fermented chili bean paste (ma po sauce)

3 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine 

1 large egg white 

½ teaspoon kosher salt 

2 Tablespoons cornstarch 

round dumpling wrappers – either homemade (below) or purchased

vegetable oil, for frying

  1. For the filling: Cut the tofu into ¼” thick slices; wrap in a layer of paper towels and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. 
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the pork with all the ingredients except the tofu and cornstarch.
  3. Cut the tofu into small dice and fold gently into the spiced pork mixture.
  4. Fold in the cornstarch just until incorporated.
  5. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. To assemble: Lay a wrapper in the palm of one hand or on the work surface. Using your finger, brush the outer edge with water. 
  7. Spoon 1 heaping Tablespoon of filling in the center. 
  8. Fold the wrapper over the filling to form a half-moon; pinch at the top to adhere. 
  9. Fold a pleat in the wrapper on the top left, angling the pleat back toward the center, pressing to adhere. 
  10. Repeat the pleating on the top right of the wrapper to meet the first pleat in the center. 
  11. Transfer the dumpling to a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap; repeat with the rest of the wrappers and filling.
  12. To cook: pour enough oil into a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom in a thin even layer. 
  13. Arrange some of the dumplings in the skillet, flat side down (pleats up). You will need to work in batches if cooking all the dumplings in one go. 
  14. Cook over low heat until golden on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes.
  15. Carefully pour in enough water to reach halfway up the dumplings – careful it will spatter aggressively. 
  16. Cover and cook until almost all of the water is absorbed, and the filling is cooked through, about 4-6 minutes.
  17. Uncover and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, and the dumplings are crispy on the bottom, about 2 minutes longer. 
  18. Carefully invert the dumplings onto a plate. 
  19. Repeat the process with the remaining dumplings. Serve warm.
  20. Do ahead: filling can be refrigerated overnight. The assembled, uncooked dumplings can be frozen for up to 1 month and cooked from frozen. Just add 2 minutes to the covered cooking time. Alternatively, you can boil or steam the frozen dumplings for about 8 minutes.

DUMPLING DOUGH:

Makes enough for about 46 3 ½” dumplings

10 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup boiling water 

  1. For the dough:
  2. food processor method:
  3. Put the flour in the work bowl and with the machine running, add the water in a steady stream through the feed tube. 
  4. As soon as all the water has been added, stop the machine and check the dough. It should look rough and feel soft but firm enough to hold its shape when pinched. 
  5. If necessary, add water by the teaspoon or flour by the tablespoon. 
  6. When satisfied, run the machine for another 5-10 seconds to further knead and form a ball around the blade. Avoid overworking the dough.
  7. by hand
  8. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. 
  9. Use a wooden spoon to stir the flour while adding the water in a steady stream (a kitchen towel rolled into a ring with the bowl nestled in the center will keep it steady.) 
  10. When all the water has been added, there will be a lot of lumpy bits. 
  11. Knead the dough in the bowl to bring all the lumps into one mass; if the dough does not come together easily, add additional water by the teaspoon.
  12. Knead: Regardless of the mixing method, transfer the dough and any bits to a work surface; flour the surface only if necessary, and then sparingly. 
  13. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 30 seconds for machine-made dough, or about 2 minutes for handmade dough. The result should be nearly smooth and somewhat elastic; press on the dough; it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. 
  14. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. 
  15. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become soft, and pliable which makes the wrappers easy to work with.
  16. After resting, the dough can be used right away to form the wrappers or, refrigerate overnight and return to room temperature before using.
  17. To roll: divide the dough into four pieces. Sprinkle each piece lightly with flour, cover with plastic wrap.
  18. Roll a piece of the dough as thin as possible, working it back and forth and using additional flour only if it sticks terribly. Keep turning the dough and rolling to get it as thin as you can.
  19. Cut rounds with a 3 ½” round cutter. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough, keeping the rounds covered to prevent them from drying out. The scraps can be re-rolled but they benefit from a rest so it’s best to save all the scraps, tightly wrapped, to roll last.

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It’s that time of the year again, the pre-holiday rush, but it’s different this time. Very different. Many of are trying to figure out what to do in the midst of pandemic with increasing infection levels in every corner, particularly the Midwest. (WTF North Dakota?!) We want to celebrate with family, with big tables of abundant food and rounds of laughter, however, we’re aware of the current situation and certainly don’t want to put anyone at risk. So we’re wisely scaling down. Celebrating virtually. Maintaining our distance. Having BYO cocktails in backyards around makeshift fire pits. We’re doing what works to keep others safe and that really is a good thing. Remember that. Hang in there.

But oh boy do we need a good food celebration. Potlucks are out, individually served things are in. And snacks. God damn do we need snacks. I’ve been snacking on the regular since April and have no intention of stopping. Snacks for dinner is a regular thing around here. You definitely need a tasty nibble to offset that glass (ahem, or three) of wine with your social Zoom calls, right? I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, looking for ideas that used mustard and stumbled upon the most genius of snacks with only three simple ingredients. That woman is a wonder.

So here’s what you’re going to do for the easiest snack ever. Go to Trader Joe’s and buy a box of that great all butter puff pastry they only have at the holidays. Hell, buy four. Then dig around the fridge for a jar of Dijon mustard. If you have some cheese or a bit of prosciutto, fantastic, but it’s not necessary. Grab an egg while you’re in there. Preheat the oven to 400°F while you’re rooting around for these things.

Smear one side of the pastry with Dijon, fold it over, cut into strips and bake. A very simple yet delicious and surprisingly elegant cocktail snack in no time. If you want to fancy it up, sprinkle some finely shredded cheese (gruyere is perfection) over the full sheet. Or lay a few pieces of prosciutto over the lower half. I did all three on one pastry sheet, for a nice mix of each. A little egg wash, and a pinch of poppy or sesame seeds are nice. That’s it. The recipe can be doubled. Tripled. Halved. It can be assembled and frozen to bake off as you wish. Bake one; bake twenty. Do what you want. It is the ideal appetizer for these uncertain times and even when things go back to whatever normal might be. When you start having parties again, remember this one.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: WHO ISN’T STRESSED RIGHT NOW? Things suck. They just do. Chicago is going back on lockdown next week and I imagine, a lot of the country isn’t far behind. Which is why you might want to think about baking up a whole sheet of mustard puff pastry bâtons, pour yourself a glass of chilled crisp white wine and eat them all. Hey, just saying, it’s a thought. 

eleven years agoMultigrain BreadChicken Salad Full of Good ThingsLamb & Ale Stew

ten years agoClassic Wedge Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

nine years agoMaple Buttermilk Spoonbread with Glazed Pears

eight years agoKale & Squash Salad

seven years agoApple Cider Compote and an Orchard PartySunday Lunch Ramen

six years agoRoasted Delicata Squash – 4 Way

five years agoShaved Mushroom and Fennel Salad

four years agoChicken Wing Friday – Green Curry Chicken Wings,  Kale Salad with Crispy Salami & ChickpeasChocolate Malt Cookies

three years agoHomemade Sour Cherry Cracker JackFresh Apple FrittersPumpkin Cream Cheese BreadGjelina Style Roasted Beets with Spiced Lentils

two years agoCreamy Spinach Artichoke DipThe Original Kale Salad

last yearDate Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Caramel Glaze

MUSTARD BÂTONS – loosely adapted from this recipe

Makes about 20 bâtons

Be sure your Dijon really packs a punch as the spicier varieties tend to come through more after baking. If you like the pop and crunch of a mustard seed, the grainer varieties are nice too. 

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge (about 12 ½” x 9 ½”)

¼ cup Dijon mustard, more or less

Good pinch of kosher salt

1 large egg + 1 teaspoon of water

Poppy or sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

A bit of flour for rolling

  1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Have a ruler and a pizza cutter (or sharp knife) handy.
  2. Lightly flour the top of the pastry sheet, flip it and lightly flour the top.
  3. Roll out lightly to extend the size a bit, about an inch or so more on either side. You want to even out the dough and make it a bit thinner.  
  4. Turn the dough so that the longer side of the rectangle is closest to you. 
  5. Spread the mustard in an even, thin layer all over the pastry. An offset spatula works great but you can use a butter knife. 
  6. Sprinkle a good pinch of kosher salt all over the mustard.
  7. Optional: if you like, at this point sprinkle finely grated cheese in a thin loose layer over the pastry or lay prosciutto in a single layer on half of the pastry. 
  8. Fold the top portion of the dough over the bottom and lightly press to adhere. Trim the edges into nice, tight rectangle.
  9. Chill for 30 minutes to make the cutting easier and cleaner.
  10. Using the pizza cutter (or sharp knife for the prosciutto strips) cut the pastry from top to bottom into strips about ½” wide. 
  11. Carefully transfer the bâtons to one of the baking sheets and chill for another 15 minutes to get the pastry nice and cold before baking. (You can make all the strips to this point and freeze them on the baking sheets, then pack them airtight and keep them frozen for up to 2 months.)
  12. Lightly beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of cold water and brush the tops of the strips. If you like, sprinkle them with poppy and/or sesame seeds.
  13. Bake 8 minutes. 
  14. Rotate the sheets (top to bottom, front to back) and bake for another 7-8 minutes, or until the strips are puffed and golden brown. 
  15. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the bâtons rest for a couple of minutes before serving.
  16. Storing: Unbaked bâtons can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months and baked while still frozen. Brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle them with the seeds, just before baking.

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Have you discovered chili crisp yet? That crunchy, spicy, umami bomb of a Sichuan condiment everyone has been talking about for the last year or so? Oh my friends, let me tell you. Whoa. Get on it. It started with Laoganma’s brand, found in Asian markets, and branched out into homemade recipes and variations. I even posted a recipe in early 2019 and have made it numerous times since. Its dried chili based and spicy, but not overly so, and packed with crunchy shallots, garlic and peanuts, a ton of ginger, Sichuan peppercorns and umami rich mushroom powder and yes, msg. Let me tell you, that msg is key. I’ve tried versions without, and they are not nearly as good. They just aren’t. Embrace the msg.

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Even before this pandemic began, I was a bean hoarder. You see, I’ve got a real thing for Rancho Gordo, those utterly delicious heirloom beans. They are fantastic and live up to all the hype. I’ve bought them in stores, I’ve ordered them online, I’ve received them as gifts. I even went to the home base in Napa, CA … and bought more beans. Back in October, I received an email that their Bean Club was open to new subscribers. This rarely happens. There’s a 5,000 person waiting list and somehow, I had the golden ticket. I’d passed on it once, years ago, and wasn’t going to let it happen again. On a whim, I quickly joined and a month later, a box with 6lbs of beautiful beans arrived in the mail. It was glorious. A few months later in the midst of a nationwide lockdown when everyone was clamoring for beans, and these beans in particular, my little whim seemed pretty damn smart.

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There’s no question we are in strange times. Sheltering at home, 6-foot social distancing and working from home are the very least we can do right now to flatten the curve, protect the vulnerable and get through this. As they say, stay the $%*& home people. And for crying out loud, be kind to the working people you encounter. Do you really think they want to be there listening to you bitch about how they don’t have the rigatoni you want? (Something I actually witnessed. Don’t be an asshole.) I’ve been self-isolating for over a week and have been on lockdown orders since Saturday and I’ve been strangely busy. It’s weird. I’ve discovered live dance classes and concerts on social media to keep me moving and entertained. I’m blasting through my various ques – podcasts, Netflix, Hulu, you name it. Some educational, some absolute crap, all very satisfying. I’m working on my mediocre watercolor skills, for better or worse. I’ve rediscovered the joy of finishing a book. I’m immensely enjoying virtual happy hours with my friends and family for much needed social interaction and belly laughs. I nap every day. Not surprisingly, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what I’m going to cook, what I’m going to eat. Now that I have the time, I kicked my sourdough starter into gear and I’m taking on other time intensive projects – made ravioli yesterday in fact. But here’s the thing with self-isolating as a single person … it’s a lot of food and I don’t like leftovers. I give away some but that’s harder than usual right now. So, I’m creatively repurposing. Or trying to anyway.

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This is it: Day 12 of The 12 Days of Crackers and the final in the olive oil cracker series. When I was coming up with ideas for flavoring all these crackers, I took stock of my spice selection. To put it bluntly, it is a vast assortment; the accumulations of multiple development projects, travel adventures and an irresistible urge to buy interesting things. Digging through a cabinet, I noticed I had 4 or 6 different bottles of Japanese seasonings, the majority in the togarashi family. I should probably use them.

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Got the hang of an olive oil cracker? Good. Because now we’re getting interesting. This one has za’atar, that cornerstone seasoning of Levantine cooking. If you’ve cooked from any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books, chances are good you’ve got a jar sitting on your spice shelf. (Probably some sumac too, right?) So let’s use it, shall we?

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