Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spiced Lentils and Rice with Crispy Fried Onions

My love affair with Jerusalem: A Cookbook has yet to wane. 

I have two words for you. Two golden brown, balmy, scrumptious little words: Fried onions.
If I'm being honest, you could skip over the entire second half of the recipe, pausing after the onions are golden brown and draining in a paper towel-lined colander. If I'm being completely honest, you could just plunk that colander down on the counter, pull up a stool and have at it, just you and your hot, crisp, salty, sweet bucket of onions.

It's not that the lentils and rice aren't fragrantly warm and deeply satisfying, both exotic and homey at the same time, because they are. But oh, those onions!

The original recipe calls for 4 medium onions. The original recipe obviously does not account for the cup and a half of fried onions that will surely never make it to the finished dish because you can't possibly stop shoving them into your mouth. Lucky for you, I account for this certainty below. Use 6 big onions. Heck, use a whole bag if you've got them. They won't go to waste, trust me.
Spiced Lentils and Rice with Crispy Fried Onions
adapted from Jerusalem a Cookbook

1 & 1/4 cups dried lentils (green or brown)
6 large onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 & 1/2 tsp salt plus more to taste
1 & 1/2 cups sunflower oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1 cup long grain brown rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground tumeric
1 & 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 & 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1 & 3/4 cups water
black pepper

Put the lentils and enough water to cover them by several inches in a large pot. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

Peel and thinly slice the onions. Separate the onion slices into rings and spread out on a few baking sheets. Sprinkle with the flour and 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Heat the sunflower oil in a wide, heavy saucepan over high heat. Once the oil is hot enough that a single onion thrown in starts to sizzle and dance, turn the heat down slightly to medium-high. Add the onion slices in several small batches frying each batch for about 6-7 minutes until the onions are golden brown and crisp, taking care not to burn yourself with the splattering oil. Line a colander with paper towels. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the crispy onions to the colander to drain while you fry the remaining batches, adding more sunflower oil to the pot if needed. Sprinkle the crisp onions with more salt to taste. Try not to eat them all before the lentils are finished, I dare you.

Discard the leftover oil and wipe the pot clean with a paper towel. Toast the cumin seeds in that very same pot over medium heat for a minute then add rice, olive oil, remaining spices, and sugar to the pot. Season with salt and pepper and stir to coat the rice with the oil-spice mixture. Add the lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes until the water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat. Open the lid and cover the pot quickly with a clean dish cloth. Secure the lid on top of the towel, and set the pot aside for 10-15 minutes.

Stir about half of the fried onions into the lentil mixture. Reserve the rest of the onions and use them to top individual servings. Steal the onions off other people's bowls while they're not looking. Go ahead. Tell them I said you could.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Simple Sesame Noodles with Ginger Poached Chicken

Rotini, penne, bucatini, ditalini, elbow macaroni, linguini, fusili, shells, orecchiette, angel hair...The KC kids like pasta especially when it's buttered and buried under a snowbank of Parmesan cheese shaved from a hunk, not shaken from a can.

After 6 and a half years of sauce therapy, Looly is now almost as likely to choose spaghetti with meatballs and marinara as she is to opt for plain (that is, buttered and Parmesan-topped) pasta. Bean and Roo remain steadfast in their loyalty to butter. Progress is not fast.

Asian noodles would be such a welcome change of pace if only I could get the troops on board. Pad Thai and Peanut Noodles don't bode well for the nut-allergic, so we generally avoid Asian restaurants but that doesn't mean we can't rock scallions and soy sauce at home with our noodles.
Perhaps somewhat embarrassingly, my past attempts at any remotely Asian-style noodles, while decidedly edible to me, have been met with unsettling facial contortions and breathy grunts by the KC kids. They complain they're too spicy, too salty, too fishy, too saucy, too sticky, but mostly...there's just not enough Parmesan.
After a lot (and I do mean a lot) of trial and error, we have a winner! It turns out the key to my children's stomachs is simplicity. I really love big, bold, Asian-y flavors and have a tendency toward the more is better philosophy but in terms of impressing the munchkins, restraint is key.

Simple Sesame Noodles
adapted from The Hakka Cookbook

1 pound udon noodles, soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti
3 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp thinly sliced scallions
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
lime wedges
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
Thai red chili paste (optional)

Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, drain and rinse. Combine the oils, soy sauce, green onions, and lime juice in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add noodles and toss to coat. Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro. Serve with red chili paste for some extra oomph, if desired, and ginger-poached chicken (recipe follows).
Ginger-Poached Chicken
adapted from The Hakka Cookbook

6 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
6 quarter-size slices of fresh ginger (unpeeled is fine)
3 cloves garlic
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into chunks
1 tsp salt

Combine the stock, ginger, and garlic in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Carefully, add the chicken pieces, cover, and remove from heat. Allow the pot to sit undisturbed for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and serve over Simple Sesame Noodles (recipe above). Stir the salt into the broth and serve alongside the noodles and chicken.

Bonus: If you happen to be having a wintery, runny nose, tickly throat kind of day like me, I highly recommend you stir a solid tablespoon of Thai red chili paste into your own bowl of broth. Your sinuses will thank you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bacon Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Roo has a thing for Mo's Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar from Vosges. In fact he relishes his "chocolate bacon" so much that he received the Mini Bacon Chocolate Library for Christmas. By now we're all well-versed in the trend. Bacon and chocolate, chocolate and bacon. Old news, right?

But how about the crispest brown sugar-crusted bacon to ever grace your lips entwined with gooey, bittersweet chocolate wrapped in the warm buttery hug of a fluffy, buttermilk biscuit?
That's what I thought.

This all started because Deb over at Smitten Kitchen has this recipe in her killer new cookbook (which, in my house is already dog-eared and exploding with butter stains and a rainbow of post-it-notes) for Maple Bacon Biscuits. I like bacon. Bacon is my friend. There's a jar of bacon grease living on my kitchen window sill. It's kind of like a sun catcher but way more utilitarian. But maple syrup? Eh.
Born and raised in the Great Northeast it's a sacrilege to shun maple syrup, but I can't help it. It just doesn't do it for me, unless it's in a cocktail shaker with a few fingers of bourbon and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice but that's a story for another day.
 Chocolate, though. Chocolate I can get behind in all its guises.
We're going to be candying some bacon in a minute here. It's crucial to point out that once you have completed this process you will never be the same. From this day forward you will in all likelihood require brown sugar-crusted bacon on peanut butter (or in our case, SunButter) toast. You will sprinkle it on frosted cupcakes. You will use it to garnish pasta, spinach salads, and in homemade granola. You might even find yourself tossing the last few crumbles into a French press along with the coffee grounds just to see. I thought I had better let you know.
Bacon Chocolate Chip Biscuits
Inspired by The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
makes 12 2-inch biscuits

6 slices thick-cut bacon (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) cold butter, diced
4 tbsp cold bacon fat (or 4 additional tbsp cold butter, diced)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil (trust me here). Place a metal cross wire cooling rack on top of the foil lined baking sheet. Spread the brown sugar in a shallow dish and dredge the bacon slices from tip to tail on both sides, pressing the sugar to make it stick. Lay the coated bacon on the wire rack. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the bacon is very crisp and dark at the edges. Let the bacon cool slightly, use a spatula to release the strips from the wire rack, then cool completely. Chop into small pieces.

Turn the oven up to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut in the cold butter and bacon fat until the largest clumps are the size of small peas. (If you don't happen to keep a jar of bacon fat on your window sill like me, all is not lost. You can safely substitute more butter for the bacon fat, though I suggest you consider reserving your bacon grease going forward. Try it on roasted Brussels sprouts instead of oil and top with what else? Candied bacon!)

Stir in the chopped bacon bits and chocolate chips. Add the buttermilk all at once and stir gently until just combined. Dump the dough onto a well floured surface and knead it a couple of times until it holds together. The less you handle it the better. Gently press the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter or inverted drinking glass to cut out 12 biscuits. Place the biscuits on the parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until the tops are light golden brown.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Looly's Solo Apple Crisp

No doubt about it. Looly's growing up. With a visit from the tooth fairy under her belt, it's time to start pulling her weight in the kitchen.
Last spring when she was a mere babe of 5, not the worldly, gap-toothed 6-and-a-half-year-old you see here, we took a field trip to Penzeys Spices, where Looly chose a jar of Vietnamese Extra Fancy Cinnamon. She's been waiting to make her own apple crisp ever since and apparently I've been neither accommodating nor timely in making it happen. So she did what any gap-toothed, worldly 6-and-a-half-year-old would do. She went online and printed out a recipe herself.
Look at her, hands washed, hair back, apron on, ingredients assembled, reading through the whole recipe before she starts. She's already a way better cook than her mother who has an embarrassing habit of needing to run to the store for a roll of parchment paper or a bunch of cilantro because I swear it said nothing about that a minute ago.
 And check out those knife skills. I was 25 before I knew to curl the fingers on my left hand.
Mixing the "crisp".

Watch out, Martha. Looly's in the kitchen.
Looly's Solo Apple Crisp
adapted from Simply Recipes

5-6 medium apples (preferably Granny Smiths)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats (old fashioned or quick-cooking)
1/2 cup butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

Peel, core, and chop the apples into 1-inch chunks. Place them in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the top.

In a bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and oats. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the oat mixture. Sprinkle the oat mixture on top of the apples. Bake 35-45 minutes until the apples are soft and the topping is golden brown and crisp.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Pears with Balsamic Drizzle

I admit it. This one's just for me. And for you, of course. Pull up a chair.

My kids won't tolerate anything orange and mushy. There's no meat here and sweet potatoes don't rank high in Mufasa's diabetes-fighting, low-carb diet. But, sometimes we need to do a little something for ourselves, yes?
Consider this. You're cooking for a group and needed to accommodate various food allergies and sensitivities. Simple roasted vegetables are a safe bet. Roasted sweet potatoes with pears and balsamic vinegar are not only super tasty and make the house smell like pie, but are also free of the top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish) and gluten-free too!

And no pressure but one of these really seems to help the process along. Ignore the Jack Daniels glass. He's not invited to this party.
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Pour in an ounce of bourbon, an ounce of fresh lemon juice, top with good ginger beer (here's my fave) and garnish with a lemon wedge. Do it! Do it! Just saying. All it needs is a snappy name. Suggestions?

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Pears with Balsamic Drizzle

2 or 3 sweet potatoes
2 large firm pears (I used Bartletts but the choice is yours. Cored, halved Seckels would be lovely)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Good quality, aged syrupy balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Scrub the sweet potatoes and slice them into wedges about 1 & 1/2-inches thick leaving the skin intact. Put them on a sheet pan. Douse with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 20 minutes until they're starting to soften but not yet done.

While the potatoes roast, core, stem, and slice the pears into wedges about 1-inch thick. Add the pears to the sheet pan with the potatoes. Drizzle on the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss the pears and sweet potatoes gently. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes more until the sweet potatoes are done and the pears are tender. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Season with more salt and pepper and serve warm.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Miss M's Homemade Garlic Hummus

I have already professed my love for Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's cookbook, Jerusalem. But just in case you didn't get the memo the first time, it is spectacular.

Here's the thing. You know how fancy European style bakeries seduce you with gooey rustic fruit tarts, fluffy whipped cream-topped pots de creme and snowy rows of toasted coconut pastries that legitimize all your 8-year-old fantasies about what dessert is supposed to be? Yeah, well, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi do that too. But with vegetables. And legumes. 
Hummus, right. It's relatively innocuous. Two out of three KC kids dip carrot sticks and crackers in it by their own free will so that's something. I pick up a plastic container every couple of weeks at the grocery store, so why don't I ever make my own? Assuming you cook the beans ahead of time or use (gasp!) canned, it takes all of 10 minutes. That's not including resting time which I interpret more as sampling and adjusting time anyway.

As with most bean-based endeavors, Bean was looking forward to serving as kitchen assistant on Project Hummus. When the time came, however, she'd been sucked into a lengthy "game" of school with a relentless and exacting teacher, her big sister, Looly, and there was no recess to be had. Thankfully my adorable niece and cooking buddy, Miss M, stopped by to help me out instead.
At the risk of maxing out the cute-o-meter, I'm posting this photo of Miss M at work anyway. Look at that smirk! She was a stellar helper but do you think she tried a lick when we were finished? Not a chance.

Miss M's Homemade Garlic Hummus
Adapted from Jerusalem a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

3 & 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1 cup tahini paste
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 cloves garlic (it is garlic hummus, people)
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
6 to 8 tbsp cold water
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tbsp sunflower seeds

Put the garbanzo beans in a food processor. If your food processor canister is on the small side, like mine, you might want to divide everything in half and work in 2 batches. Miss M and I almost blew the lid off ours trying to do too much at once.

Process the beans until they form a paste. Keep the machine running and pour in the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. With the machine still running, add the water a tablespoon at a time until you reach your perfect hummus consistency. This is a most personal preference. For me it took 7 tablespoons. Let the hummus rest for 30 minutes or more.

Spoon the hummus onto a plate, garnish with parsley and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for a little crunch. Serve with warm pita, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, or just about anything else you care to dip.
more garlic = more yummy

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cheesy Pinwheel Buns

In line with my current engrossment with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, we used a recent day off from school to make a version of Deb's Cheddar Swirl Breakfast Buns. Since the KC kids are not huge dill fans, we opted to leave that part out and replaced some of the cheddar cheese with our family fave, Parmesan.
The munchkins had so much fun making dough.
Yeast is still a magic potion for them. They can't get enough of watching dough rise.
Cheesy Pinwheel Buns
adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
makes 12 buns

For the dough
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp sugar
1 (1/4-ounce or 2&1/4 tsp) packet instant yeast
1 cup milk
4 tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled

For the filling
1/2 cup grated onion
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
dash black pepper

1. Whisk together the flour, salt, pepper, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. In a separate small bowl, combine the yeast and milk. Whisk until the yeast dissolves. Pour the yeast-milk mixture and the melted butter into the flour mixture and mix using the paddle attachment on your mixer, or a wooden spoon if you're looking for an upper body workout, until the dough is holds together in a raggedy mass.
2. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5-6 minutes on low speed, or if you're going the old fashioned route, dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it with your hands for 8 minutes. In either case the kneading is done when the dough is nice and smooth and just barely sticky to the touch. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray or wipe the the bottom and sides with oil and transfer the dough ball to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warmish place for a couple of hours until it has doubled in size, like this (and yes, that is my son in a tutu, he always dresses his best for baking):
3. On a well floured surface, roll the dough out into a rectangle (about 12 x 16 inches or as close as you can get).
4. Mix together the onion, both cheeses, salt and pepper. Spread the filling over the dough leaving a 1/2-inch border at both short ends.
5. Start rolling from one short end to the other to make a log. Cut the log into 12 equal slices with a sharp knife.
6. Line a pan of your choice (two 9-inch rounds or one 9x13-inch rectangular pan) with parchment. Place the rolls cut-side up into the prepared pans, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until they have doubled in size. (Deb recommends brushing the tops with melted butter at this point. We skipped it and still got beautiful yummy buns so take your pick).
7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the buns have doubled in size, pop them in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. You'll know they're done when the cheese is oozing out the top and starting to brown in places. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve warm.
These fill the house with really good smells. So good in fact that my photo session was cut short by a band of hungry monkeys demanding to be fed. Yup, that's a diffuser behind Roo and that's him eating my prop. I suppose that's success if I've ever had any.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Chickpea Salad (Balilah)

I have a problem.

Despite the hundreds of post-it-notes peaking out from recipes waiting to be made in the scores of cookbooks I already own, I can't stop myself from bringing home just one more. Ever. But it could be worse - orphans, kittens, Maseratis.

I read cookbooks cover to cover. Based on the number of flagrant typos I come across, it seems not many other people do that. Shelf space is long gone so my most recent acquisitions reside in the middle of the kitchen island as a centerpiece of sorts. Mufasa's been kind enough not to mention it.

My current obsession is Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The photos are reason enough to buy the book but the message of hope, tolerance, and community is why you need to own it now. And the recipes!

Despite all the food challenges I run up against on a daily basis (textural sensitivity, nut allergy, egg allergy, eosinophilic esophagitis, diabetes, 4-year-olds...) it's awesome that Roo and Bean both love beans. Looly is another story but she's easily satiated with other forms of protein as long as they're accompanied by lemon wedges. Lemon steak? Don't knock it til you've tried it.

Beans, though. Beans are such perfect 4-year-old sustenance. Protein, fiber, folate, and no knife skills required. Garbanzos are Bean's absolute favorite and thanks to this fresh, lemony recipe courtesy of Jerusalem, they were in her lunchbox all last week.
Keep in mind that when using dried beans they're going to need to soak overnight. Try not to used canned beans here if you can help it. It's worth the wait.

Chickpea Salad (Balilah)
adapted slightly from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 cup dried chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans)
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 green onions,thinly sliced
1 large lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
2 & 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced or microplaned to a pulp
salt and pepper

1. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover them with plenty of cold water. Add the baking soda and let them sit out to soak overnight or at least 8 hours. They will have nearly doubled in volume by morning.
2. Drain the chickpeas and put them in a large pot covered once again with lots of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim the foamy goop off the top of the water, turn down the heat and simmer for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The beans will cook faster or slower depending on how fresh they are. Check them often after the first hour of cooking. They should yield when pinched between your fingers but fight the urge to cook them until they are mushy.
3. Meanwhile, put the parsley in a large bowl. Use a lemon zester or Microplane grater to zest the lemon (about 1 tbsp zest) into the parsley. Cut both ends off the lemon and using a sharp knife, remove the skin, the bitter white pith, and any seeds and discard. Chop the lemon flesh and add it to the bowl with the zest and parsley.
4. When the beans are soft (but not mushy!), drain them and add them while they're hot to the bowl with the parsley mixture. Add the olive oil, cumin, and garlic. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Don't be stingy with the pepper. Serve at room temperature or in a lunchbox.