Saturday, April 12, 2014


My parents gave me fresh herbs for my birthday! Have I already told you this was happening? Well, Mom was in town last weekend, so we went shopping for plants and pots, and ended up with a nice little windowsill herb garden featuring dill, German thyme, sweet mint, and chives. In the week I've had them, I've managed to use the mint, chives, and dill, and I have another meal planned for tomorrow that uses more mint and dill. While I like thyme and thought I used it a lot, I'm not having trouble coming up with recipes to use the lovely fresh thyme that's hanging out on my windowsill. If any of you have ideas, please share them!

A great way to use fresh mint is in tabbouleh, a terrific middle-eastern side dish made with bulgur, mint, parsley, lemon juice, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Tabbouleh is filling but light, and tastes incredibly fresh and bright thanks to the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Because of all the chopping, it can take a little while to make, but it's not hard at all--just chop things, cook bulgur, and stir it all up. 

Tabbouleh tastes best when it can sit for a few hours to let the flavors blend together. I prepped my ingredients Thursday night, stirred it all together Friday morning, served it Friday night, and it was great. The leftovers were also great today (Saturday) for lunch. Though the herbs darkened (as in the pictures here), the flavor and texture were still quite lovely. 

The recipe below calls for 1-1/2 cups each of parsley, mint, and scallions/green onions. I used closer to 1 cup of each but think it would be excellent with the full 1-1/2 cups. Some recipes I saw called for far more parsley than mint, but I like this ratio, especially since the cost of store-bought fresh mint is no longer a consideration.

Adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 12 servings

1-1/2 cups bulgur
2-1/4 cups water
4 roma tomatoes, diced (2-3 cups)
Juice from 3 lemons (about 3/8 cup juice)
1/4 cup + 1/8 cup olive oil, divided
3-5 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sliced scallions (both white and green parts)
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh mint leaves (stems removed)
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 medium to large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cook bulgur in water according to package directions.* When cooked, stir, remove from heat, and allow to cool completely. Chop the tomatoes and set them in a colander to drain while you chop the rest of the vegetables and herbs.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except 1/8 cup olive oil, and starting with just 3 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. (I used a 4-quart Pyrex bowl, and it was the perfect size.) Use a rubber spatula to mix gently but very well. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Before serving, add the last 1/8 cup oil. Taste; add more salt and pepper if needed. 

Serve chilled or at room temperature. Leftovers keep very well.

*Most tabbouleh recipes I read said to pour boiling water over the bulgur, then let it stand (off the stove) for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I wasn't sure why, and the bulgur I buy only takes 15 minutes to cook, so I opted to follow the package directions.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Coconut Rice

A couple weeks ago, a friend brought me these stunning shiitake mushrooms from a bigger city with more Asian markets than where we live. When I saw how giant and utterly gorgeous they were, I knew I needed to use them in a dish where they could shine. So I adapted a beef stir-fry from the Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook, subbing in shiitakes for the beef.

This stir-fry was quick, simple, and wonderfully delicious with a delightfully balanced flavor. The brown sugar made it slightly sweet and sticky, the fish sauce added just a hint of funk, and the shiitakes were meaty and earthy. If you don't have access to shiitakes, I'd recommend portobellos, baby bellas, or crimini, as they tend to be meatier and earthier than the basic white mushrooms.

I also highly recommend making coconut rice instead of plain rice. It doesn't take any longer to make, but the coconut milk puts the rice on a whole 'nother playing field. As I've written the recipe below, the coconut flavor is fairly pronounced. But if you prefer a more subtle coconut flavor, use less coconut milk and more water.

My green beans were a little on the crunchy side. I'm keeping the recipe with the steps I followed. But for more well-done green beans, either toss them in with the mushrooms and shallots, or steam them for a bit in the microwave before adding them to the skillet.

I think this stir-fry would be great with beef or chicken--perhaps switch out half the mushrooms. For beef, follow the directions exactly as they're written; for chicken, you may need to add a bit extra cooking time in the first step to ensure it gets fully cooked. For added crunch and protein, some sliced toasted almonds would be lovely sprinkled on top at the end.

This dish reheated well, but be careful not to cook it too long in the microwave, as the mushrooms can get kinda rubbery if they get zapped too long.

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry
Adapted from Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook
Yield: 4 servings

Coconut rice (recipe below)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lbs. shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 medium or 1 large shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 birds eye chili, thinly sliced (optional; more or less to taste)
10 oz. fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed, and sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 dashes fish sauce
3 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced

Start the coconut rice. If it finishes before the stir-fry is done, simply remove it from the heat, fluff with a fork, and re-cover. Then prep all the veggies. For a stir-fry like this where you add ingredients every couple of minutes, I find it helpful to pre-measure everything, including the sauces and spices, and line them up on my counter in the order that they'll go into the skillet.

Heat the sesame and canola oils in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, salt, pepper, and bird's eye chili (if using; I didn't). Stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add the green beans and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 10-30 seconds.

Add brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce; stir to coat evenly. Continue to stir-fry for another minute or two, until everything is cooked through. If needed, add water 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Serve with coconut rice and garnish with green onions.

Coconut Rice
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup water
Pinch salt
1 cup basmati rice

In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rice. As soon as it returns to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir, and re-cover until ready to serve.

Some varieties of basmati recommend rinsing the rice before cooking it (to remove extra starch) and/or adding the rice to the liquid(s) before bringing it to a boil. Also cooking times may vary. So check the instructions on your rice and adjust my directions accordingly. The main thing is to use coconut milk for a hefty portion of the water measurement.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese
Adapted from Eats Well With Others
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 loaf fancy bread of choice (I used a rustic french bread)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only
2 oz. gruyere, shredded
1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter, softened, for pan and for spreading on bread
Swirl of olive oil

Prepare the leeks: Chop off the dark green tops; discard or reserve for another use. Remove the very end of the bulb. Cut the white/light green stalk in half lengthwise, then slice thinly. Fill a large bowl with water and place the sliced leeks into it. Swirl them around with your fingers to help loosen any dirt on them. Remove the leeks to a colander, then dump out the dirt-infused water and rinse out the bowl. Repeat until you're not getting any dirt in the bottom of the bowl. Let the leeks drain in a colander while you grate the cheese and slice the apple.*

Heat a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until leeks are softened. Add the apples and cook for a few minutes more, until apples are also soft. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, set bread slices in pairs, and butter the outsides of what will be each sandwich. When apple and leek mixture is ready, build each sandwich: Lay apple slices on the un-buttered side of a slice of bread. Top with some leeks, then sprinkle on some gruyere, then top with the other piece of bread (buttered side out).**

Transfer any leftover apple-leek mixture into a bowl or storage container; wipe out the skillet. Return skillet to medium-low heat. Once it's hot, carefully add sandwiches to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, turning carefully, until each side is crusty and golden. Remove each sandwich to a cutting board and, using a good bread knife, slice each sandwich in half.

Joanne (the original recipe writer) called for 4 large leeks for 4 servings. I used 2 large leeks and got 5-6 servings. Perhaps my leeks were bigger than hers, or her bread slices were bigger than mine? Her pictures don't look like she filled her sandwiches fuller than I did.

*At this point, Joanne said to blanch the leeks (boil for two minutes, then dunk in ice water). I did that, but didn't think it accomplished much other than getting another pan dirty and making the process more complicated, so I'm leaving that step out of my instructions.

**On this step, it's best to use your fingers so you have maximum control over your ingredients. Just let the apple-leek mixture cool enough for you to handle it. For more cheese throughout the sandwich, do apple, cheese, leek, cheese. I tried it both ways and liked them about equally.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Breakfast Quinoa with Spinach and Egg

When it snows in west Texas, the world shuts down. We don't have fancy things like snow plows and tire chains (is that even what they're called?) and people who know how to drive in snow and ice. So an inch or two of snow is enough to close schools and businesses, giving us all the blessed gift of an unexpected day off to burrow under the covers and stay in our jammies all day.

I'm making the best of my day off, which will probably still entail some work and will certainly include some homework . . . but first it included a quick, easy, and wholesome breakfast of egg, quinoa, and spinach. The flavors were simple but hit the spot. I left my egg yolk runny, which added a nice creaminess to the dish. The recipe I was following called for hummus on top; I didn't have any on hand, but it sounded like a good idea so I kept it in the recipe below.

Breakfast Quinoa with Spinach and Egg
Adapted from Naturally Ella
Yield: 1 serving

1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 shallot or 1 clove garlic, minced
2 handfuls baby spinach
2 Tbsp. feta cheese crumbles
1-2 eggs
2-3 Tbsp. hummus (optional)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil or butter
Optional garnish(es): chives or green onions

Heat a small pot over medium heat and pour in the dry quinoa. Toast it for a couple minutes, stirring often. Then add water and salt, and cook according to package directions.*

While the quinoa cooks, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until tender and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the spinach, and cover the skillet. Let sit for a few minutes until spinach is wilted. Stir in the cooked quinoa and feta, then transfer to your serving plate.

In the same skillet, cook egg(s) however you like them. Slide egg on top of quinoa mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Top with hummus and garnishes, if using.

*Note: I buy pre-rinsed quinoa, which makes this toasting step possible. However, if you have non-pre-rinsed quinoa, skip the toasting, rinse the quinoa, and cook according to package directions.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Food Goals for 2014

Last January I shared several food-related goals for the new year. While most people's food goals revolve around eating more greens and less fat, mine revolve around ingredients or preparations I want to try out. Yes, making healthful eating choices is also still important to me--so is trying new foods!

First, let's see how I did on my 2013 goals:
  1. Learn to like lentils - Success! I'm glad I gave these little guys a try, because they are tasty, versatile, cheap, and healthy! A couple favorites: Dan's Dal Makhani and an adaptation of Thai Basil Coconut Lentils. Tip: almost any time I make lentils, I cook them in vegetable broth rather than water. It gives them a nice flavor boost but still keeps their flavor neutral enough to not clash with whatever other flavors are going into the dish.
  2. Cook eggplant - Never got around to this one. 
  3. More international foods - I did well with this goal. My favorite was probably the Cambodian Curry, and some others include Asian Chicken Salad with Homemade Peanut Dressing, Chopped Thai Chicken Salad, the Dal Makhani linked above, Avocado, Mozzarella, and Jalapeno Chimichurri Grilled Cheese, and Spiced Veggie Tacos with Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa.
  4. Incorporate a new whole grain into my diet - I tried bulgar and barley, liked them both, but wouldn't say they're regulars on my table.
  5. Cook with prickly pear (the fruit or the cactus) - I didn't cook any myself, but I did eat two different prickly pear jellies/jams and ate nopales (the cactus part) prepared by others. I'm counting it!
  6. Make crepes - They haven't happened yet. Several times I started to put them on my menu but couldn't find any recipes that really grabbed me.
Now for 2014 food goals:
  1. Prepare at least one lasagna - There are tons of lasagna recipes sitting in my "must make" list, including tomatoey, creamy, and squashy variations, but I cannot remember the last time I actually made a lasagna. 
  2. Make gnocchi - I've read that it's terrifying, and I've read that it's involved but not scary. I'd like to find out for myself.
  3. Cook more often - Lately I've been in a bit of a food rut. Maybe it's school and work stress. Maybe it's Netflix or the Ender Quintet soaking up all my free time. I don't really know. But lately cooking seems less exciting to me than it normally does. I'd like to rediscover that passion.
  4. Make stovetop popcorn
  5. Make something with fresh tomatillos.
  6. Play with more fresh herbs - My parents are getting me an indoor fresh herb garden for my birthday, so I'm excited to a) try my hand at keeping plants alive and b) be more intentional about incorporating fresh herbs instead of dried herbs or no herbs.
  7. Finally a goal for this blog: Get a recipe index page up and running - I started one a while back and played around with how to make it look right, but I haven't finalized it or publicized it yet.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cranberry Crostini with Goat Cheese and Brie

As we approach Christmas day, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite recipes I've made in a while. Though I made these crostini for Thanksgiving, the sauce smelled just like Christmas! I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate Thanksgiving and look forward to putting up Christmas decorations the next day.

These crostini are wonderfully simple to make, but look and taste fancy. I think the blend of spices was pretty much perfect. No single flavor took over the dish, but instead created a symphony of sweet, spiced, tart, rich, creamy, and crunchy.

I made some of mine with goat cheese and some with Brie, and I can't decide which I liked better. If doing small, two-bite bread slices from a skinny baguette, you're probably good either way. If doing larger slices from a fatter loaf, Brie might be a bit rich.

This recipe is very portable and easy to make ahead. Toast the bread slices and, once they're cool, store in a large zip bag until ready to serve. The cranberry sauce can be made days in advance and stored in the fridge. Just warm it up a bit in the microwave right before serving. I traveled with all my components separate, and let people assemble their own crostini. That way each person could choose which cheese(s) they wanted, the bread didn't get soggy from sitting too long, and any leftovers were easy to take home.

Speaking of leftovers, they do well on crackers, leftover turkey, leftover dinner rolls, and pretty much anything else you can think of. One of my friends says the cranberry sauce is good on pancakes, and I may or may not have made french toast topped with leftover cheeses and cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Crostini with Goat Cheese and(or) Brie

Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 8 servings

1 baguette or small loaf of artisan whole grain bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices
Olive oil
12-oz. bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice (or equal parts cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg)
Zest of 1/2 an orange
10 oz. (total) goat cheese, Brie, ricotta, or cream cheese, or some combination thereof - at room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil, and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet or two. Lightly sprinkle with salt. Toast the bread in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden on both sides, turning them halfway. Set aside to cool, and turn off the oven.

Rinse the cranberries and throw out any bad ones; set aside. In a saucepan, whisk together the honey, water, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Bring to a gentle boil over medium to medium-high heat, whisking often. Add the cranberries and cook, stirring frequently, until cranberries have popped and the sauce is the consistency you like. The longer you cook it, the more saucy and less chunky it will get. Beware that the cranberries may try to attack you while they're popping. Remove from heat and stir in the orange zest.

To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with cheese, then top with cranberry sauce.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Bourbon Glaze

I'm not going to write much about these because a) the recipe is really long with several notes at the end, and b) I think the title speaks for itself. But I will say this: these cinnamon rolls took a boatload of time, and they were worth EVERY second. They turned out sweet, gooey, super soft, and basically the same thing as happiness on a plate.

One quick matter of business before we get to the recipe. I opted to mix and knead the dough in my bread maker. So the dough-making directions below are taken almost word-for-word from The Pioneer Woman, and I cannot personally vouch for how the process works. This was a little too much dough for my bread machine (most of its recipes call for 3 cups flour, and this recipe has 4-1/2) so it overflowed a bit but thankfully didn't make too big a mess. If you go the bread machine route, make sure your machine can handle this much volume, or cut the recipe in half.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Bourbon Glaze

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman 
Glaze adapted from my Pumpkin Monkey Bread recipe
Yield: 24 rolls

1-1/2 cups milk (I used 2%; original recipe was for whole milk)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
1 cup pumpkin puree
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 cup additional all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Additional flour for kneading and rolling

3/4 cup butter, melted, divided
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
8 oz. cream cheese, very soft (I used reduced fat)
1 cup finely chopped pecans

6 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. brown sugar (I used dark)
2 Tbsp. rum or bourbon

Make the dough:* In a large saucepan, combine milk, vegetable oil, and sugar. Heat until hot but not boiling; remove from the stove and allow it to cool until it's warm to the touch but not too hot. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the liquid and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin puree.

Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Sprinkle it into the saucepan and stir until it just comes together. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

After an hour, the mixture should be very puffy and at least doubled in size. Whisk together the additional 1/2 cup flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the dough until fully combined.

Roll out the dough: Dust your countertop and hands with flour. Turn dough out onto the counter and form into a rectangle. If it's too sticky, work in additional flour until it's handleable, but don't work in too much extra flour.** Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough into a large rectangle, roughly 30 inches wide by 10 inches deep.

Add the fillings: Melt 3/4 cup butter and set aside to cool slightly. In a small bowl, combine sugar and filling spices. Dot the dough with globs of softened cream cheese, then use a dull butter knife (or the back of a spoon) to carefully spread it.*** It will not spread perfectly; that's okay. Pour about 1/4 cup of the melted butter over the dough and cream cheese, and use your fingers to spread it around evenly. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over the surface of the dough, followed by the pecans. Pour the remaining butter into two 9 x 13 x 2 inch pans, and swirl it around so it evenly coats the pans.

Roll, cut, and bake: For a more manageable rolling process, cut the dough in half, so you're left with two rectangles that are 15 inches wide by 10 inches deep. Starting at the top, roll each rectangle toward you into a large log, rolling as tightly as possible as you go. I frequently had to use a floured rubber spatula with a sharp edge to gently loosen the dough from the counter. End the rolling process the with seam down on the counter.

Use a sharp (floured) knife or dental floss to cut each of the two logs into 12 rolls (I find it's helpful to make hash marks before cutting). Nestle the rolls into the buttered pans. Cover each pan with a damp towel (one that's okay if it gets stained) and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 20 minutes. (Tip: Heat oven to 200, turn OFF, and place rolls in the warmed oven to rise.)

If rolls are rising in the oven, remove them. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges, rotating the pans halfway through. Mine took exactly 20 minutes.

Make the glaze: Combine butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, and bourbon in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 3-5 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and browned, butter is nice and foamy, and some of the alcohol has cooked out. Drizzle glaze evenly over the cinnamon rolls. Let them cool for a few minutes before serving.

*Alternatively, if you have a bread machine that's big enough, put all dough ingredients into a bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Use the dough cycle to make the dough, knead it, and let it rise.

**At this point Ree said the dough should be really sticky, and you should work in just enough flour so you can handle the dough. At this point, mine was more like batter than dough, so I ended up working in at least another cup of flour before I could actually handle the dough. Perhaps I mis-measured the flour initially, or maybe the bread machine method made for a wetter dough.

***On all the fillings, leave a 1/2 inch edge along the bottom of the rectangle with no filling. This will help it seal better when you roll everything up.