Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spiced Roasted Nuts with Paprika and Thyme

Over a year ago, I earmarked a spiced nuts article in the Food Network Magazine's Thanksgiving edition. And for over a year, this spread sat untouched by me. Occasionally I'd see it on my list of recipes I want to try, and think, "Oh yeah, those sounded really good. I need to make those soon" . . . and then promptly decide to make something else. Well, when the time came to decide what to do for Happy Winter (i.e., Happy Late Christmas) gifts for my coworkers, these roasted nuts finally got their time to shine!

The Food Network article is a mix-and-match recipe of sorts. Kind of a like a "choose your own adventure" book, but with snack foods. They suggested a number of nuts, mix-ins, and flavor combinations, and I went with the paprika-thyme combo with almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pretzels. It seemed to go over well with my coworkers, and I've enjoyed snacking on the leftovers.

Nuts and pretzels are tricky to measure accurately, so I erred on the side of too much. After doubling the recipe below, I wound up with enough to fill a dozen half-pint mason jars plus about half of a quart jar. While I'm quite fond of the nuts/mix-in/flavoring combination I used, it's definitely worth checking out the Food Network article for more ideas.

Spiced Roasted Nuts with Paprika and Thyme
Kind of adapted from Food Network
Yield: 5-1/2 cups 

1 egg white
1-1/2 cups raw unsalted whole almonds
1-1/2 cups raw unsalted walnuts
1 cup raw unsalted pecans
1-1/2 cup mini pretzels
3 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp. paprika
3/4 to 1 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. mustard powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350, and line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the egg white with a whisk until frothy. Add the nuts and pretzels; use a rubber spatula to mix gently but thoroughly so everything is coated with egg white.

In a separate small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (sugar through pepper). Mix them well, then sprinkle them over the nut mixture; again, mix gently but well.

Spread the mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet(s). Bake for 15-20 minutes or until nice and roasty, stirring every 3-5 minutes. If using multiple pans, rotate them halfway through the baking time. Let cool on the baking sheet(s) before eating or sharing.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Easy Creamed Corn Cornbread

Cornbread is one of those things that seems like it should be really easy and basic, and yet it somehow manages to be oddly tricky. It can easily wind up too dry, too wet, too sweet, or too bland. This recipe, though, is a winner in my book. It has a nice level of sweetness, and the creamed corn adds some texture and helps keep the cornbread moist. Since I don't usually have milk on hand, I also like that this recipe doesn't call for milk or buttermilk, nor does it require a packaged mix.

Easy Creamed Corn Cornbread
From The Kitchn
Yield: one 8-inch pan, or 9 moderately-sized squares

1-1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-3 Tbsp. sugar (I used about 1-1/2 Tbsp., and mine came out pretty lightly sweet)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 (14.75-oz) can cream-style corn

Preheat oven to 425. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Melt your butter and allow to cool a bit while you mix up the rest of the ingredients.

In a medium to large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, melted butter, and cream-style corn. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry; stir just until incorporated.

Pour batter into your prepared baking dish. Bake for 17-21 minutes, until cornbread is golden and just barely starting to brown. Mine baked for 20 minutes and was still borderline underdone in the middle. If using a 10-inch skillet, your cornbread would be less thick and, therefore, probably take less time in the oven.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemony Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Ham and Kale

I don't know how the world looks where you live, but where I live, it looks a little something like this.

So in honor of the thin blanket of ice and dusting of snow outside my door, and in honor of New Year's Day, I made black-eyed pea soup yesterday. This soup was hearty and earthy without feeling heavy, and the lemon zest made it taste happy and bright.

Lemony Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Ham and Kale
Adapted slightly from Serious Eats
Yield: 4 servings

12 oz. hickory smoked ham, chopped
1/2 to 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large stalks celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary, divided
2 Tbsp. lemon zest (the zest of 2 lemons), divided
2 (15-oz) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (I used 1 regular and 1 with bacon)
1-1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock (I used 1 quart chicken stock and 1/2 quart reduced sodium vegetable stock)
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale, trimmed, washed, and roughly chopped (perhaps a little less; see notes)
Salt (optional) and black pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until it becomes shimmery. Add the ham, onion, and celery; cook until onion and celery are tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, half the lemon zest, and half the rosemary; cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds.

Add the black-eyed peas, stock, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves.

Scoop about 2 cups of soup into a quart-sized mason jar, then use an immersion blender to puree it. (Alternatively, scoop out about 2 cups of soup, let it cool slightly, then puree in a regular blender. You'll need to remove the part of the lid that allows steam to escape, but hold a folded washcloth over the hole to contain splatters.) Return pureed soup to the soup pot.

Add kale to the soup pot, and cook for about 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Taste; add salt and pepper if needed. You may not need any extra salt, depending on the sodium levels in your ham, broth(s), and beans. Right before serving, stir in reserved rosemary and lemon zest.

  • If you prefer, use mild Italian sausage instead of ham. Brown it in your soup pot before adding the onions and celery.
  • If you prefer to start with dried beans rather than canned, see instructions on the original recipe linked above.
  • Now let's talk about kale. First, you'll definitely need to remove the thick center rib from each leaf as part of your kale prep. Then chop it roughly and rinse well since it's easy for dirt and grit to get nestled inside the curly leaves. The recipe I was following said to use 1 bunch, or about 2 quarts chopped kale. Bunches can come in many sizes, and I'm not entirely sure how to accurately measure leafy greens. So here's what I did: chopped my kale, let it float around in a (clean!) sink of water so any grit would settle to the bottom, then transferred the kale into a colander that's about 2.5 quart capacity (about 11 inches in diameter). The kale pretty well filled my colander without me packing it down at all. Then I used only about 2/3 of it in my soup. While kale is yummy and good for you, it can sometimes leave soups tasting a little bland if you add too much of it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Food Goals for 2015

Happy New Year!

While many people use this time of year to think about how they want to better their lives in the coming year, I like to think about how I can challenge myself in the kitchen. To be clear, this is not to say that I don't also focus on improving myself and my life in other areas. As a perfectionist, I do this constantly in my everyday life.

Before launching into my 2015 food goals, let's see how I did on my 2014 goals.

  1. Lasagna -- done! While I thought I might go for a more out-of-the-box variation like butternut squash and b├ęchamel, I wound up with this basic, traditional, amazing lasagna.
  2. Gnocchi -- also done! Though I didn't blog about it, I did make some pumpkin ricotta gnocchi with a creamy mushroom sauce. Mine ended up a little dense, but they were quite tasty, and I felt so accomplished after making them.
  3. Cook more often -- this one was not terribly successful, but not a total flop either. I hardly cooked at all this summer (I blame grad school), but cold weather always seems to inspire me with endless possibilities of soup, casseroles, roasted vegetables, and all things pumpkin and squash.
  4. Stovetop popcorn -- I make this regularly now, and it's super easy! Here's a good tutorial from Cookie and Kate. I like to use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, and my go-to flavoring to sprinkle on top is Penzey's Sicilian salad seasoning.
  5. Tomatillos -- this didn't happen.
  6. Fresh herbs -- this goal didn't go well. Most of my indoor herbs died pretty quickly or got really shrimpy (sadly, I did not inherit my granddad's gardening skills), and when most herbs are at their peak in the summer is when I was hardly cooking at all. 
  7. Recipe index page -- ta-dah!
And now, here are my 2015 food goals. Apparently the letter P was inspiring me as I compiled my list.
  1. Paella -- I've never actually eaten paella, so I'm not even sure I'll like it. But it keeps popping up in various places including a food blog I follow, a computer game, and a TV show. So I'm going to try it. Because who doesn't want their menu to be influenced by silly computer games?
  2. Panna cotta -- Liz on the Splendid Table podcast raves about how easy panna cotta is, but the contestants on MasterChef seemed to have a harder time with it (maybe that was more because of time constraints than technique?). I'd like to find out for myself. Besides, my desserts are usually more gooey and homey (or cookies) rather than fancy and refined, so it will be nice to add something a little more upscale to my repertoire.
  3. Pasta -- a couple friends discovered they had two old-school pasta rollers, so they shared one of them with me. I'm looking forward to trying it out!
  4. Poach an egg -- this seems like one of those hard-but-basic cooking techniques that every competent cook ought to know how to do. 
  5. Polenta -- I've eaten it a couple times and really liked it, and I tried making it myself once with grits and it just wasn't the same. So the real deal needs to happen on my stove this year.
  6. Prickly pear jelly -- confession: canning terrifies me. It seems really intricate and dangerous if you don't do it correctly. But there's still a ton of prickly pear juice in my freezer, and I plan to harvest more in August, so gifting homemade prickly pear jelly to my friends sounds like a marvelous idea.
How about you? What foods or techniques do you hope to try out this year?