Monday, June 20, 2016

Coleslaw for Haters

Not long after finishing second grade, I set out on a quest.

You see, my family moved from the land of green bean casserole and strawberry-rhubarb pie to the land of barbecue brisket. Which meant that now, any time we went to a catered meal of some sort, there was a really good possibility that it would feature barbeque meat(s) served with a handful of sides that always included coleslaw. You know the stuff. Kinda soggy chopped cabbage swimming in mayo-based soup that's occasionally too peppery and usually too sweet.

As you might have guessed, coleslaw and I did not become fast friends. But since we were so often in each other's company, it seemed only right to learn to at least tolerate each other. So I began my quest to develop a liking for coleslaw (and baked beans and potato salad, for that matter).

Through the years I've grown to like coleslaw okay, but usually only a few bites before the soggy, creamy sweetness is just too much.

Then one day I met mayo-free coleslaw.

She's happy and bright and tastes like summer. She's fresh, crunchy, and SO not fussy, and she’s got a bit of sassy tang. Mayo-less slaw has become my go-to sidekick when going to a cookout, especially if I’m short on time. I've brought her to a LOT of gatherings in the last few years, and nearly every time, someone says a variation of, "I don't like coleslaw, but this is really good."

I couldn't agree more.

Mayo-Free Coleslaw
Adapted from Marc Matsumoto
Yield: 6-8 servings

Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice (I use the juice from the zested lemon, then supplement with bottled lemon juice)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 bags of coleslaw mix, about 14 oz. each*

In a jar, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper.** Give it a good shake. Dump the coleslaw mix into a serving bowl and pour the dressing on top. Toss well. That’s it.

I prefer to serve mine within 30 minutes to an hour after dressing the slaw. If you like a softer, more pickled slaw, store it in the fridge for a few hours.

* I usually use 1 bag regular mix (green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots) and 1 bag broccoli slaw.
** Alternatively, you can add all the dressing ingredients to your large bowl, whisk well, and add the slaw mix on top. I like the jar method because I usually end up taking the slaw and dressing separately to wherever I’m going and dressing it as soon as I get there.

Marc Matsumoto sometimes uses vinegar or lime juice instead of lemon, or brings whole grain mustard into the mix. I imagine cilantro would be a delightful addition with lime juice and lime zest. For years now, I’ve had great intentions of trying one of these variations, but I like the original so well that I have never strayed! So if you try one of the variations, I’d love to hear how you like it!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Crawfish Stock

My friends suggested that the first step in this recipe's instructions be, "Start with a jar of crawfish carcasses." It does make for an exciting start, don't you think?

We did a crawfish boil last week at house church, and partway through the meal I decided that I wanted to make crawfish stock out of the claws, heads, and shells that otherwise would have gone in the trash. They thought I was joking until I brought out a half-gallon mason jar, filled it with crawfish remnants, and forced them to drink the rest of the tea and prickly pear limeade I'd brought so I could fill those jars with crawfish as well.

A few observations about the stock-making process:

  • It felt resourceful to make homemade broth from stuff that would normally be thrown away. If I were really resourceful, I would make a habit of tossing into the freezer carrots, half-used onions, and other trimmings that I won't be able to use before they go bad, so I could use those for stock instead of buying all fresh veggies for this.
  • Prepping the ingredients was extremely quick and easy. Since all the solids get strained out, it doesn't matter how roughly everything is chopped. I didn't even peel the carrots or garlic.
  • What took me a long time was washing pots and colanders between batches. I don't have a pot large enough to do this entire recipe in one batch, so I had to split it in half and do two rounds in my 7(?)-quart stock pot. I think I spent more time washing dishes than chopping, cooking, and straining everything.
  • Crawfish stock is basically the color of mud. It looks kinda gross, I'm not gonna lie. I felt discouraged when I saw the end result. But it tasted fine when I sampled it, and tasted even better when I used some to make jambalaya a couple days later.
  • If you have some shrimp tails, toss those in as well.
  • Open your windows to help the fishy smell dissipate.
  • Who knew a cross-section of a head of garlic could be so pretty?

Crawfish Stock
Adapted from
Yield: A little over 1 gallon of stock, which yielded 10-1/2 pint-sized mason jars, since you have to leave some head room in each one

6 quarts crawfish shells
2-1/2 large onions
10 stalks celery
5 large carrots (about 1 lb.)
2 heads garlic (whole heads, as opposed to individual cloves)
2 lemons
5 Tbsp. butter
2-1/2 small bunches fresh parsley (or 2 medium bunches)
10 bay leaves
1-1/4 tsp. dried oregano
12 stems fresh thyme
15 whole peppercorns
Very modest sprinkle of salt

Roughly chop the onions, celery, and carrots. Lay each head of garlic on its side (so the stem end points to the side rather than up or down) and slice down once through the whole head. Quarter the lemons.

In batches, rinse the crawfish shells very well. You want the stock to taste like crawfish and veggies, not like crawfish boil seasoning.

In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the crawfish shells and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients to the pot, then add water so the ingredients are almost covered. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour.

Now it's time to strain the stock. There's not one correct way to do this, but here's how I did it. Place a large colander inside another large pot or bowl. Scoop ladlefuls of stock (with solids and all) into the colander. This will take care of all the big pieces of vegetables and crawfish, but you'll still have some thyme leaves and flecks of stuff in your broth. So now pour or ladle the broth through a fine mesh strainer. Discard all the solids.

Don't be worried that your stock is the color of mud. It will still taste good.

Portion out the broth into jars for freezing, being sure to leave an inch or so of head room since liquid expands when it freezes. Since this is shellfish, I would suggest cooling it as quickly as possible (i.e., in the fridge, freezer, or an ice bath...not by leaving it out on your counter for a couple of hours). Use the stock within 3 days or freeze it.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider

For quite some time now, one of my coworkers and I have been planning to make some warm, festive beverages to share at the office. Originally the plan was to do pumpkin cider in celebration of autumnal weather. Buuut we didn't manage to make it happen until after December 1, so something more Christmasy seemed like the way to go.

Enter cranberries. I've shared before, I always associate cranberries more with winter than fall, even though they're mostly mostly in the stores around Thanksgiving. They look festive, and their tart flavor is perfect for brightening up sometimes-dreary winter days.

So last week I whipped up this mulled cranberry apple cider, my friend whipped up some hot cocoa, and our coworkers rejoiced. I've made this cider once before and love the flavors and the ease of prep.

Mulled Cranberry Apple Cider
Adapted from Rachael Ray
Yield: 12 servings (3 quarts total)

2-inch piece of ginger root
1 orange
4 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
2 quarts cloudy organic apple cider
1 quart cranberry juice
1-2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed (frozen is fine)
Slow cooker

Peel the ginger and cut it into 3-4 smaller pieces. Cut 2-3 slices out of the center of the orange. Then use a paring knife to remove some of the peel from the "heels" of the orange that didn't get sliced. Try to get as little of the white pith as possible, but don't stress about it. Stick the cloves through the piece(s) of orange peel. This basically just makes it easy to fish out the cloves later. (Alternatively, you could just throw in some orange slices and some loose cloves.)

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker (4-quart capacity or larger). Cook on high for 2-3 hours, checking it after an hour or so. If it's hot enough, turn the slow cooker down to warm. If it's getting too spiced, then fish out some or all of the ginger, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.

  • If you need to expedite this, then warm the apple cider and/or cranberry juice in the microwave before adding to the slow cooker. I warmed my apple cider in the microwave, and after an hour on high in the slow cooker, everything was piping hot. If you're really in a hurry, follow Rachael Ray's stovetop directions.
  • I bought a gallon of cider and roughly a half gallon of cranberry juice. I used half of each to make one batch of this cider. Since I don't normally drink either of these things on their own, I poured the leftover cranberry juice into the cider jug and stuck it in my freezer. I'll pull it out for round two when my family is in town for Christmas later this month. 
  • The above tip sounds frighteningly like a story problem from math classes of yorn: If Karissa has 4 quarts of cider and 2 quarts of cranberry juice, then pours half of it into her slow cooker, how many quarts of juice are left?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Nerdiest Christmas Album Ever

Gather ‘round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of death undone
By an infant born of glory.
Son of God, Son of Man.
By far the nerdiest Christmas album I own—and hands down one of my favorites—is Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God. It’s usually the first CD I listen to each Christmas season (yes, I still use CDs) because it does such a good job of setting the scene and putting Christmas in context. Now, I like Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree just as much as the next person, but ultimately Christmas is about a God who craved relationship with and wholeness for God’s people—so much so, that this God did the most radical thing I can think of, and became human, stepping into our shoes, into our swaddling clothes, into our mess. And Behold the Lamb of God does an excellent job of telling the story of this God, this people, and this baby. It begins with a teaser of the story to come. A movie trailer, if you will, highlighting the hero of the story.
Instead of going straight to Bethlehem, we instead begin in Egypt, where we meet Moses, Pharaoh, the enslaved people of Israel, and a Passover lamb. We hear the cries of a people who long not only for deliverance but also for God’s mercy and closeness even as they find deliverance.
Lord, let your judgment passover us
Lord, let your love hover near.
Don’t let your sweet mercy passover us
Let this blood cover over us here.
This longing continues as these people enter the Promised Land and seek strong leaders: Moses is dead, Joshua isn’t kingly enough, and what they need is a king. Saul is a disappointment, though David is pretty awesome. But eventually exile happens and “the people of God are scattered abroad.” They ask the prophets if they’ll ever have another king like David—one who’s wise, loved by the people, and powerful “with a sword in his fist.” And Isaiah responds that yes, a King is coming, but he’ll be different than expected. As the years stretch on, Israel’s longing for Messiah—for ruler and deliverer—intensifies:
Our enemy, our captor, is no Pharaoh on the Nile,
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand.
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains yet, Lord, we’re bound.
Imprisoned here we dwell in our own land.
Deliver us, deliver us, O Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight.
Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay.
Our shackles, they were made with our own hands.
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give.
So, Yahweh, break this silence if you can.
And at the end of this song, we catch a glimpse of Yahweh’s longing that mirrors Israel’s:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed
To gather you beneath my gentle wings.
I think that what I like so much about this first portion of the album is the desperation and the honest treatment of pain in the lives of God’s people. Most Christmas music is festive, happy, celebratory. These songs revel in the pleasures of sleigh rides and jingle bells, marvel over a child in a manger, and paint pictures of angelic choirs filling the sky with their brilliance and good news. And this is good! God becoming human is remarkable and worthy of every praise we can muster!
Also, sometimes life is hard. And it’s comforting to find a collection of songs that doesn’t gloss over that. It’s been a rough year for me and some of my close friends. As a community we’ve dealt with loneliness, burnout, many miscarriages, work and financial uncertainties, death. And it’s been a rough year for our country and our world. It’s nearly impossible to log onto Facebook without seeing some fight break out over whether we’re destroying our planet, or whether refugees and immigrants are coming here as terrorists and/or freeloaders, or whether members of the LGBT community are abominations, or whether racism is still a thing, or whether this religion or people group or political party or fill-in-the-blank is offending me or challenging my rights, or . . .
Deliver us, deliver us, O Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight.
I love that in this album, there is longing and deliverance, sorrow and praise. Because the centuries of slavery, imperfect leaders, exile, and growing distance from God made the arrival of the Messiah that much more powerful and miraculous.
As the story continues to unfold, we get a review of Christ’s lineage through a playful little song called Matthew’s Begats. You know, Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob and so on? Kind of a brilliant song, if you ask me, and unlike any other Christmas song I’ve heard! We then meet Joseph and Mary and follow them to Bethlehem. We hear Mary’s pained cries and see her and Joseph in a non-glamorous and far more realistic birth scene: in a cold, unclean stable, with “blood on the ground,” “tears upon her face,” and “no mother’s hand to hold.” We join the shepherds in marveling at the angels’ proclamation that the Savior—this king from David’s line, this long-awaited Messiah—has arrived! We join in the angels’ unfettered hallelujahs, then slip quietly back to the stable for the ballad that serves as the climax for this story that has taken centuries to unfold.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin.
Behold the Lamb of God, the life and light of men.
Behold the Lamb of God, who died and rose again.
Behold the Lamb of God, who comes to take away our sin.
There’s a celebratory reprise of the album’s opening song, calling us to “sing out with joy for the brave little boy, who was God but made himself nothing,” followed by a no-frills recording of the simple chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful. And then tucked away at the very end of the CD is a recording of Andrew Peterson’s little boys singing a song that many of us learned as kids: “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.”
I always assumed Peterson threw that in there because he wanted to show off his sons’ cuteness. And maybe that was part of his motivation. But if you think about it, the song actually fits pretty well. Because our God is so big! Our God is mighty enough to do crazy things like delivering an entire nation out of slavery, bringing them priests and prophets to facilitate relationship, sharing their griefs, fiercely pursuing a fickle bride, and dwelling among us as a baby, then a kid, then a man who overturned social and religious norms and demonstrated his power by choosing humble sacrifice over political and military prowess.
Indeed, there is nothing our God cannot do.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

All quotations taken from various songs on Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson, originally released in 2004.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Panna Cotta (and Pasta Night!)

Photo credit: Chai Green
A couple weeks ago, I had some friends over for a hands-on dinner party, and we tackled two of my 2015 food goals in one night: pasta and panna cotta. I made the pasta dough and panna cotta ahead of time, and once my friends arrived, I put them to work helping roll pasta.

For the pasta dough, I used the recipe from Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Basically all you need is flour, a bit of salt, egg, and a bit of oil. For rolling and handling technique, I found this article from Serious Eats to be very helpful. It's also a good read if you like to get real nerdy about your food. We used the old-school hand crank pasta rollers and cutters, for which you really do need two people--one to turn the crank and hold the machine in place, and one to feed the dough through the rollers and catch it as it comes out. I don't understand how people manage a hand crank roller by themselves! Making fresh pasta was a lot of work, but it was fun work with friends who were willing to pitch in and work for their dinner. And it tasted so good!

It was Lynn Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table podcast who inspired me to make panna cotta, so I originally planned to use her recipe. However, she uses sour cream in hers, and I couldn't find lactose-free sour cream for my lactose-intolerant guest, so I used The Kitchn's recipe instead. It tasted delicious, looked and felt fancy, and was actually really easy to make. And you can easily vary it up with different toppings or even different kinds of milk or flavorings. I will definitely make panna cotta again. See tips and topping ideas in the notes below the recipe.

Also, for an appetizer that night, I made simple peach-basil crostini. Simply slice a baguette, spray or brush lightly with olive oil, and spread out on a baking sheet. Then broil for just a few minutes until toasted (watch closely!). Then chop up some fresh peaches, and toss it with some thinly sliced fresh basil. Scoop the peach-basil mixture onto the crostini, and you've got a tasty, summery bite. A bit of ricotta or creamy goat cheese probably would have been a nice addition. Bonus: the peach-basil mixture tasted sublime on the panna cotta.

Panna Cotta
Yield: 6 servings (6 oz. each)

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. powdered gelatin
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Fresh raspberries, chopped fresh peaches, or other toppings of choice (see notes)

Pour the milk into a saucepan (off the stove) and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Let sit for 5 minutes. The surface will get wrinkly and the gelatin will be slightly dissolved.

Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, whisking frequently. The milk should never boil, simmer, or even start steaming. If it starts to steam, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly. The milk should get warm, but not so hot that you can't hold your finger in there for a few seconds. After about 2 minutes of warming, rub a bit of the milk between your fingers to make sure it's smooth and doesn't feel gritty at all.

Add the sugar to the milk, whisk it, and continue warming until the sugar is dissolved. Again, make sure the milk doesn't get too hot. This whole process of dissolving the gelatin and the sugar shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. 

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the cream, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Let the mixture sit out so it cools to room temperature. Whisk it again, then pour into wine glasses, ramekins, or other container of choice. Chill for 1-2 hours or more. The longer it chills, the firmer it will be. Add toppings of choice and serve.

  • Topping ideas: Fresh raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries (puree some for a sauce, if desired). Chopped fresh peaches, tossed with fresh basil, if desired. Drizzle of thick, good-quality balsamic vinegar. Drizzle of honey. 
  • The gelatin we're using here is plain, unflavored, unsweetened gelatin. In other words, not Jello. I found it in the Jello and pudding section of the grocery store, and the brand I got looks like this. It had 4 little envelopes of gelatin powder, and it took almost two envelopes to measure 1 Tbsp. 
  • When I got ready to pour the milk mixture into the wine glasses, I found it helpful to line a cookie sheet with non-slip shelf liner, then put the wine glasses on that. It made it easier to move them into the fridge all at once with no slip 'n' slide action.
  • The Kitchn has two panna cotta articles that I found helpful: How to Make Panna Cotta and Why Panna Cotta Is the Perfect Dessert. In both articles, she mentions that sometimes the milk and cream can separate into layers of lighter and heavier fat levels while the panna cotta chills. In the first article she recommends using half and half (instead of milk plus cream) to combat this, and in the second article she recommends allowing the mixture to come to room temp and whisking again before pouring into ramekins. I went with the latter solution, as you see in the recipe above.
  • If you want to unmold your panna cotta to serve it, see the instructions in the How to Make Panna Cotta article linked above.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lebanese Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad

Lebanese Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad

Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 6 servings

2 (14-oz.) cans red kidney beans
1 (14-oz.) can chickpeas
1 small red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried dill
Pinch red pepper flakes

Pour the kidney beans and chickpeas into a colander. Rinse well and allow to drain while you chop all the veggies.

In a good-sized bowl, combine the beans with the red onion, celery, tomato, cucumber, parsley, and mint. If prepping ahead, cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to dress and serve the salad.

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, dill, and red pepper flakes in a pint mason jar (or larger). With the lid on, give it a good shake. If prepping ahead, leave the lid on and store the dressing in the fridge until ready to serve.

Pour the dressing over the bean mixture and toss gently but well. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to an hour or two.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Spiced Roasted Okra

When I was a kid, we went to a lot of Christian summer camps. My parents got to share about our overseas mission work, the campers got to learn more about foreign missions, and my brothers and I got to go to camp! It was at one of these summer camps that I first tasted okra. Pickled okra, to be exact. I can't remember where that camp was, how old I was, or even the face or name of the friend-for-a-week who loved pickled okra so much that she got some every day from the cafeteria salad bar and encouraged me to try it as well. What I do remember, though, is that I hated it.

Over the years, I had okra in soup a couple times, and it tasted better than that pickled okra but had a weird sliminess. As a college student I was introduced to the wonderful thing that is fried okra. And a couple years ago, when my neighbor started sharing fresh okra from her garden every summer, I started looking for other ways to prepare it that highlighted its freshness and didn't involve breading and a deep fat fryer.

Enter roasted okra. Roasting okra deepens the flavor, cuts down on the sliminess, allows you to add whatever spices you like, and is simple and pretty healthy.

Spiced Roasted Okra

Fresh okra
Olive oil
Spices of choice (I used ground coriander, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and black pepper)

Preheat oven to 450. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper or foil.

Rinse the okra and pat dry with a towel. Trim off the stem ends and the very ends of the tips (otherwise they'll burn). Halve the okra length-wise.

In a bowl, toss the okra with olive oil. Then sprinkle with spices. Don't bother measuring; just sprinkle to your heart's content. Toss well, and add more olive oil if it looks dry, and more spices if it looks like they're not coating the okra well enough. Spread okra on your baking sheet(s), being sure to leave some breathing room around each piece of okra. (If they're too close together, they'll steam rather than roast.)

Bake for 15-25 minutes, stirring 2-3 times during the cooking time. Watch them during the last 10 minutes or so--you want to pull them out when they're starting to get toasty but haven't turned the corner into burnt territory. Allow to cool slightly before eating. These are best eaten with your fingers. :)


  • You can also leave the okra whole or cut it into smaller pieces, but you'd need to adjust cooking time accordingly. I like them halved, because it lets the spices cover the okra more thoroughly and is a convenient size to eat with your fingers.
  • If you have a grill, okra taste great grilled. Leave them whole and trim off just the tips (not the stem ends). Put two skewers through them (so you can flip them more easily) and grill for a few minutes, depending on how hot your grill is. Then pick up by the stem to eat them, but don't eat the stem.