Archives for Recipes

Recipe: French fries

I am incredibly picky when it comes to French fries. I am so picky, in fact, that the only fries I will eat are ones I make at home. All other fries let me down, even the infamous McDonald’s fries.

Unfortunately, making really good fries at home takes time. You can make mediocre fries in just a matter of minutes (slice fries, put them in hot oil, remove fries from oil, salt, serve), but amazing fries require a 30 minute ice water bath and two rounds of frying. As a result, I don’t eat fries very often, but when I do I greatly enjoy the fact that I took the time to make them right.

French Fries

  • Russet potatoes (any hearty, very starchy potato will work)
  • Canola or olive oil
  • Kosher salt

My rule of thumb for deciding how many potatoes to use is one per person plus one additional potato. For example, if three of us will be having fries, I use four potatoes. I do this because usually one potato has a bad spot in the middle of it and I end up throwing out at least part of one of the potatoes.

Start by filling a salad spinner half-way full with cold water and a dozen ice cubes.

Then, wash your potatoes and cut out any eyes or visible bad spots.

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice up your fries and immediately submerge them in the ice water. (I usually use a more traditional fry-producing attachment on my mandoline, but I was feeling like waffle fries today.)

Let the potato slices soak for 30 minutes. This soaking helps to make the finished fry crisper, less gummy, and possibly healthier for you (reducing something called acrylamide).

After 30 minutes have passed, lift the strainer insert out of the salad spinner and pour out the water. Put the strainer back into the bowl, attach the top, and spin the potatoes dry. Once spun, pour the potatoes out onto a couple sheets of paper towels and pat off any remaining water.

Pour an inch of canola or olive oil into the bottom of a cast iron pot and heat the oil to 290ºF-300ºF. In batches, slowly add the potato slices to the oil and fry for only two minutes. (The potatoes will not be a golden brown when you remove them from the oil.)

Let the fries rest on a cooling rack while you fry up the remaining batches.

After all potato slices have been through the oil once, turn up the heat so the oil reaches 340ºF-350ºF. (On my stove, a medium or medium-high will create these temperatures. If you aren’t using a thermometer, do not be tempted to turn the burner up to high, where you can push the oil past its smoke point, and your fries will taste like burned oil.) In batches, slowly add the potato slices again to the oil. This time, you’ll only need to fry the potatoes for 15 to 30 seconds to achieve a beautiful golden brown. Immediately remove the fries from the oil and let them rest on the cooling rack. If you wish to salt the fries, do it now while a bit of oil remains on the exterior of the fry.

Serve warm.

Pork belly kale: Making a favorite recipe a little more healthful

We eat a ridiculous amount of hearty greens at our house — kale, collards, mustard greens, swiss chard, and spinach make regular appearances on our plates. They’re rich with vitamins (usually A, B6, C, E, and K) and minerals (like iron and magnesium), high in dietary fiber, and are often good sources of protein and sometimes calcium. Hearty greens are also extremely easy to make and very versatile.

I grew up cooking greens in things like bacon fat and butter. Occasionally, I’ll still do this — when you have a craving, you have a craving — but most days I opt for something more healthy(ish).

For example, one of my favorite ways to eat kale is wilted for a few minutes in bacon fat and with crumbled bacon as a topping. The fat and nitrates don’t erase the healthful aspects of the kale, but they definitely don’t keep the calories off the waistline or the vast amounts of cholesterol out of my system. Now, I make the same dish but modified a little to reduce some of the fat and nitrates (definitely not all the fat, but some). It tastes so similar that I don’t even miss all the yummy bacon grease:

Pork belly kale

  • 1/2 lb. uncured, skinless, Berkshire or Duroc pork belly
  • 1 to 2 Tbl. canola oil (enough to coat the bottom of your sautee pan)
  • 10 broad leaves of kale
  • Optional: 1 tsp of lemon juice and 1/2 tsp kosher salt or 2 Tbl. crumbled blue cheese to finish

In a cast iron pan on medium-high heat, sear the top and bottom of the pork belly, starting first with the fat side down. You’ll want a caramel brown color sear, which will take about 4 or 5 minutes to achieve on the fat side and about 2 or 3 minutes on the meat side. Once you have that wonderful brown, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to cook the pork belly slowly until it is done all the way through (based on the thickness of your pork belly, this could take up to 20 or 30 more minutes). If you don’t want to stand at the stove flipping the pork belly over every 5 minutes for 20 minutes, you can cover the pan and put the seared pork belly in a 250ºF oven for a couple hours. Check on the pork every 30 minutes or so to make sure there is still some liquid in the bottom of the pan. You don’t want a grease fire (hence, the pan lid), but you also don’t want the meat to dry out.

When the pork belly is finished, transfer it to a cooling rack.

In a clean and cool pan, warm a tablespoon of canola oil over medium heat. Slowly add 10 broad leaves of kale that have been washed, dried, had the central vein cut out, and then torn into credit card size pieces (or smaller). Wilt the kale until it is a consistent dark green and it is tender (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.

Dice the cooled pork belly into 1/2″ cubes and toss over the kale.

Based on the flavor intensity of the kale, you may choose to finish the kale with a teaspoon of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Or, if you enjoy blue cheese, a tablespoon or two of it crumbled on the top is excellent. Just don’t use lemon juice and blue cheese — this makes for an unfortunate flavor combination.

As a side dish, this recipe serves 2 to 4 people.

Easy summer eats: Miso mayo salad dressing and herb chips

Summer is the best time of the year when you live in an RV full time. Having all the windows open with the breeze blowing through my home really seems to capture the relaxed peaceful essence of this season.

As the temperature rises, cooking with my oven kills the effectiveness of those nice breezes, so I prefer to add more salads to my diet in summer. I love the variety and availability of fresh greens from my weekly farmers market because I get to keep my salad contents in constant flux.

Lately, I love using tender baby greens for my salads. Their delicate flavor and soft textured leaves really pick up and hold tightly to light dressings. I made one the other day that reminded me of something from my childhood.

Back in the day, my sister and I used to spend summers on Long Island in New York with my grandparents. We would eat dinner in their big enclosed patio, enjoying my grandma’s cooking while the breezes rolled through the window screens and Jeopardy played on their little black and white TV set.

I remember my grandpa used to eat salads with just a big dab of mayo and some salt and pepper. At first I was put off by it, but then one day I tried his salad and loved the rich creaminess (although it was less than healthy). What did I care? I was ten.

Fast forward to earlier this week, which was right about the time I was getting tired of the basic vinaigrette I was using on my salads. On a whim I purchased some Miso Mayo earlier in the week, and it occurred to me that it might work well as a replacement for regular mayo as a salad ingredient.

If you haven’t tried Miso Mayo you really should. It adds a wonderful zing to sandwiches and it was the perfect ingredient for my improvised salad dressing. Give it a shot on some baby greens, preferably eaten while sitting outside with some nice summer breezes for company.

Mustard and “Mayo” Salad Dressing

  • 2 Tbs Miso Mayo
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

Mix first three ingredients in the bottom of a big salad bowl with a balloon whisk. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add a dash of salt and pepper to your desired taste. Mix in your washed and dried greens, then serve.

Toasted Herbed Flatbread Wedges

I made these for the first time a few years ago and hadn’t made them since. Then I recently though it seemed like a good time for their revival now that summer is here and salads are constantly on my plate.

I love how easy these are to put together, and I can make them in my toaster oven instead of my full size oven to keep from heating up the RV. Cutting them into wedges give them maximum surface area, enabling lots of crispy edges when toasting.

  • 1 piece of flatbread, naan, or pita bread
  • 1 tsp olive or canola oil
  • a sprinkling of kosher salt
  • a sprinkling of dried herbs (I used thyme, but oregano, cumin, or dill work well too)

Rub both sides of the flatbread with the oil, then sprinkle with the salt and herbs on both sides as well. Cut into wedges.

Toast on the darker setting, then let the bread cool down in the toaster so the bread becomes crisp. Serve with salads, soups, or as a scoop for hummus.

Granola memories

I know you’ve got granola memories. Maybe they are faded, set up high on a dusty shelf with memories of your favorite birthday cake from childhood or the first time you really loved a slice of pizza. Maybe that memory includes the first time you cooked your own batch of granola after having watched a cooking show (like me). Maybe a friend of yours loves to cook and gave you the recipe.

Are you happy with the granola recipe you use? I’ve experienced mixed results in my efforts to find the right combination of oats, nuts, and crunchiness. It took me a while, but I think I figured it what I was really looking for: clusterization. I’m guessing sometime in my childhood I first tried a cluster filled bowl of heavenly granola then wolfed down two more servings in rapid succession.

I wonder if something like this happened to Melissa over at travelerslunchbox.com. I tried making her recipe for Seven-Year Granola, and the clusterization factor was off the charts fantastic. Big chunks of oats were hugging little centers filled with spices and nut pieces, creating a type of happy morning flavor only rivaled by the sun of a new day. Make a big enough batch of this granola and you can have that feeling every morning of your week!

When I cooked this recipe I made changes to it, which I’ve included below in italics. Enjoy!

Heavenly Cluster Granola

  • 1 lb. (450g) quick oats (I used 12 oz quick oats and 4 oz rolled oats)
  • 3 cups (750ml/about 300g) coarsely chopped raw nuts and/or seeds (I used pecans, shelled sunflower seeds, and sesame coated cashews)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mace (or nutmeg) (freshly grated nutmeg is FANTASTIC!)
  • 1 cup packed (200g) dark brown sugar (I used 1/4 cup white and a 3/4 cup brown)
  • 1/2 cup (115g/1 stick) unsalted butter (I cut this down to half a stick)
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • dried fruit, at your discretion (I used 1 1/2 cups raisins)

Preheat the oven to 300ºF. In a food processor, coffee grinder or blender, grind half the oats to a fine powder. In a large bowl, combine the whole oats, ground oats, nuts, seeds and spices. In a microwave-safe bowl (or in a saucepan over medium heat), combine the brown sugar, butter and water and heat just until the butter has melted and the mixture is bubbly. Stir the mixture together until smooth, then stir in the salt and vanilla. Pour this mixture over the oats and nuts, stirring well to coat (I usually do this with my hands). It should be uniformly moist – stir in another tablespoon or two of water if it isn’t. Let stand for about ten minutes.

Spread the mixture out on a large baking sheet, separating it into irregular clumps with your fingers, and allowing space between the clumps for the hot air to circulate. Slide into the middle of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and stir, gently breaking up the mixture into small-to-medium sized clumps. Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes or so before stirring again. Repeat the bake-and-stir until the mixture is a uniform golden brown and completely dry; this usually takes 1-1 1/2 hours. Cool completely, then stir in any dried fruit you want to use.

Simple side: Polenta

One of the grains I always keep in my pantry is cornmeal. I use it for making cornbread and hush puppies, sprinkling it on the peel when making pizza so the dough easily slides into the oven, and for breading chicken, catfish, and pork chops. I’ve also used it instead of rice or millet in porridge. My favorite use for it, though, is for polenta (or what many Americans call grits).

Polenta is a nearly perfect side dish. It is one of the easiest foods to make, it is incredibly versatile and willing to accept all types of additions to compliment a meal, and it is nutritious (high in dietary fiber and iron). Plus, it’s inexpensive when you make it with cornmeal instead of an instant polenta mix — costing just a few cents per serving.

To make a traditional polenta, use 4 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal (e.g. 4 cups water to 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup water to 1/4 cup cornmeal, etc.). The ratio for making a thick polenta (perfect for shaping into cakes for frying) is 3 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal.

Regardless of traditional or thick, boil the liquid and then slowly add the cornmeal while constantly stirring (to avoid clumps from forming). Then, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer until your polenta reaches its desired consistency (about three hours for 1 cup of cornmeal). Most times I make polenta, I simply pour the water and cornmeal straight into my slow cooker, give it a stir, turn the heat on high, and have polenta ready in a few hours. Unlike rice, polenta is very forgiving, so it takes a lot of effort to ruin it.

If you wish to add cheese (parmesan or cheddar are common additions) or spices (salt and pepper are standard, and red pepper flakes can certainly give it a kick), do this after the polenta has finished cooking. When making grits, add butter at this same point of the process. If you wish to add any ingredients to your polenta that might need cooking (like chopped onions or carrots), saute these first and then add them at the very beginning of the polenta’s cooking process.

To give your polenta more complex flavors, use beef, chicken, or vegetable stock as the liquid. If you’re having the polenta with steak or sausages, consider adding in a shot of red wine (your polenta will be pink, but tasty) along with your boiling base liquid. If after you’ve made your polenta, it turns out thicker than you desired, add a little cream to finish. Leftover polenta can be served at breakfast with a little sugar, cinnamon, and a shot of milk.

A thick polenta made with beef stock, ready to be shaped for frying:

If you decide to fry up cornmeal or grit cakes, use the 3:1 ratio and then form the cakes with either your hands or by pressing the meal into a cookie cutter. Over medium heat, fry the cakes (without the cookie cutter) in a pan with a teaspoon of hot canola oil (to prevent sticking) for three or four minutes each side. The polenta cake should have a golden, crispy crust when finished. Set on a cooling rack until ready to serve (not a paper towel because the bottom side will get soggy).

More traditional images of polenta.

My favorite type of cornmeal to use when making polenta is a coarse, stone ground yellow. If I’m making grits, I’ll use a lighter, white cornmeal. There are also blue cornmeals, but I’ve never used them.

Cheddar Ale Soup (and a drink recipe, too)

Back in my early twenties, the Free State Brewing Company in Lawrence, Kansas, was a popular hangout where my friends and I would meet at least once a week for dinner and drinks. My beverage of choice was a Cyclist — half lemonade and half Wheat State Golden (a Kolsch-style wheat beer) — which was perfect for hot and humid Kansas nights.

In sharp contrast to the cold, refreshing Cyclist, my favorite entree was a large bowl of Free State’s Cheddar Ale Soup. The soup was made with white cheddar cheese from Alma (my 101-year-old-grandmother’s birthplace), the brewery’s own Ad Astra Ale (an amber), and cream.

Once the weather started to turn warm this year, nostalgia for the Cyclist and Cheddar Ale Soup set in and I haven’t been able to curb the cravings. Since I now live 1,000 miles east of Lawrence, stopping by Free State hasn’t yet been an option. Instead of letting my cravings and nostalgia overwhelm me, I headed into my kitchen to recreate a version at home.

The Cyclist was simple to reproduce: Half a glass of a favorite wheat beer (or the leftover Miller High Life from the recipe listed below) and half a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade (or even a decent store-bought one works in a hurry).

The Cheddar Ale Soup took me longer to figure out how to reproduce since neither Alma Cheese nor Ad Astra Ale are available in D.C.-area markets. Ultimately, I found that Miller High Life was all I needed to get the results I wanted. (It is the “champagne of beers” after all …)

Nostalgic and Easy Cheddar Ale Soup

Makes one bowl

  • 1 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup Miller High Life
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp canned diced green chiles or jalapenos
  • Pepper to taste

In a small soup pot at room temperature, mix the cheddar cheese and flour until the cheese is dusted and no longer sticks to itself very well.

Over medium heat, add the beer and start stirring constantly with a rubber spatula (making sure to scrape any stuck cheese off the bottom of the pot). Completely melt the cheese. Once the cheese is a large melted mess, slowly add the milk (a few tablespoons at a time) to fully incorporate it into the melted cheese. Remove from heat and turn off the burner.

Add the teaspoon of diced chiles, a little pepper, and serve immediately. I like it with a hearty bread and, of course, a Cyclist. Multiply this recipe out for as many people you plan to serve, but you’ll need to reduce the beer a little bit to keep the consistency. I wouldn’t substitute skim milk because your soup will be too thin if you do, but you could easily substitute cream for the whole milk if your heart desired. The soup will have a little bit of a grainy texture to it, which I believe is part of its charm.

Best part of all, this soup takes less than five minutes to make.

(One time when I found my pantry bare of canned chiles, I substituted a teaspoon of Frontera Guacamole Mix and it was just as fabulous.)

Slow cooker carnitas with pickled red onions

Everyone’s favorite couple seems to be peanut butter and jelly, especially among the kindergarten crowd. Then there’s peas and carrots, but last I heard their romance is in a vegetative state. Cookies and milk are pretty cute together, but their relationship has some chips.

If you ask me, I’ve seen some savory passion between meat and pickles. Just the other day I noticed thin sliced beef literally wrapped around pickles in some rouladen (click here to watch some being made by an adorable German lady). Then I spotted these beefy hamburger patties lying around with some sexy dill slices. Heck, last night I opened up my delivery box of sausage pizza to find a pickled pepperocini had tagged along for the ride.

I suppose I’m guilty of helping the romance along in my own way. The simplicity and ease of making refrigerator pickles means I can churn out a continuous supply for burgers, rouladen, or just for snacking.

One especially magical connection happens when intensely spiced pork carnitas meet up with some eye catching sweet red onion that turns pink when pickled. Throw some of these together in a tortilla, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. The luxurious meatiness balances so well with the sweet and sour tang of the pickle, making each bite a porky puckery joy.

Sweet Pickled Red Onions

(adapted from the continuously inspirational A Good Appetite)

  • 1 large red onion, quartered and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Pack the sliced onion in a few preserving jars. Heat remaining ingredients in a pot until it comes to a boil, stirring as you go to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour this equally between the jars. Screw the lids closed and let cool on your counter for about an hour and a half, then refrigerate.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

I’ve used this super simple slow cooker recipe just a few times but it has already become a favorite. I took the original measurements of the rub and tripled it so I could load it into a nice big shaker. That way it’s also easier to have around for the next time I have a hankering for delicious porky goodness.

The Rub

  • 3 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp crumbled dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

The Rest

  • 1 (4 pound) boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Cut the pork into 1 pound chunks (quartered), then season with the rub and massage into the meat. Place the bay leaves in the bottom of the slow cooker, then add the pork. Pour in the chicken broth around the edges to avoid washing off the rub.

Cover and cook on low, turning once, for roughly 10 hours or until meat is completely falling apart. Remove from the slow cooker and allow to cool. Shred the meat with two forks, then mix in some of the reserved braising liquid to get the pork nice n juicy.

Layer some of the pickled onions on a hefty pile of pork that’s sitting on your tortilla, fold, and enjoy.

Homemade ricotta on a Thursday night

When it comes to cooking, the use of homemade ingredients will consistently generate the tastiest results. Looking to make french toast? Bake your own brioche. Wondering which vegetables taste best in your salad? The ones you grew yourself. By extension, the most delicious stuffed manicotti starts with uncomplicated homemade ricotta cheese.

Look up the word “simple” in the dictionary and you may find a photo of ricotta cheese along side it. In the cheese making world, you can’t get much simpler, especially when you consider the time and effort put into creations like aged cheddar or bleu. This simplicity makes it great for preparation in your own home, requiring only a few ingredients and minimal attention.

To help understand the process of making your own ricotta, check out this handy visual guide by thehungrymouse.com and this super simple microwave method by seriouseats.com.

Think of all the wonderful things you’ll create from your own lovingly homemade ricotta. In addition to the base recipe, I’ve also listed a few simple creations that I’ve enjoyed while using up my last batch.

Whole Milk Ricotta

(this method makes roughly 2 cups)

  • 2 quarts whole milk (do not use ultra pasteurized or the cheese won’t form correctly)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • three layers of cheese cloth

Set a colander over a large bowl and line it with the cheese cloth.

Over a burner set to medium, heat the first three ingredients until simmering, stirring constantly. Add the lemon juice, then bring the heat down to low and stir gently for another two minutes, or until the milk has curdled.

Pour the curdled mixture into the cheese cloth lined colander. The cheese will gradually drain while cooling.

Five minutes of draining will give you a moist and easily spreadable cheese that’s a joy to be eaten while still warm.

Thirty minutes of draining will give you a denser cheese that still retains some moisture and body, increasing in richness.

Two or more hours of draining will produce the densest cheese, with a crumbly texture and even richer mouth feel.

After draining the cheese to your preferred consistency, seal the cheese in a container and refrigerate.

Baguette Topped with Warm Ricotta, Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper

pictured above

Slice a baguette (I used a loaf of ciabatta) into 1/4 inch slices and top with a hefty smear of still warm ricotta. Drizzle with a fruity extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle on it some chunky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Delicious!

Basil and Ricotta Stuffed Manicotti with Garlicy White Bean Cream Sauce

(serves four)

  • 1.5 cups homemade ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed white beans and garlic (recipe here)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 3 Tbs water
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 7 or 8 manicotti shells, cooked until al dente
  • 3 large roasted tomatoes, chopped (recipe here)

Preheat an oven to 350ºF.

Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl, then pack this mixture into a plastic freezer bag. Use scissors to cut off one corner of the bag, then pipe the ricotta cheese mixture into each of the cooked manicotti tubes. Reserve finished tubes.

Add the mashed beans to a sauce pan over medium heat, using a potato masher to further pulverize any lumps. Slowly whisk the cream and water into the beans, then sprinkle on the thyme. The consistency should be thin but still chunky.

Pour roughly 1/4 cup of the bean sauce into the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking dish, then add in your finished manicotti tubes. Pour the rest of the bean sauce over the manicotti, cover, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes.

While resting, dice the roasted tomatoes and microwave for one minute or until heated through.

Top each manicotti with the roasted tomatoes and extra basil. Enjoy with a table of smiling faces.

Cooking a whole, delicious chicken

Cooking an entire chicken, especially if you haven’t done it before, can be daunting. Even the buying process can be frightening. Once you’ve done it a few times, though, it stops being traumatic and becomes incredibly simple (and extremely cost effective).

Buying

If you’re going to have a dinner party and really wish to impress your guests, I recommend following Harold McGee’s advice and “choose dry-processed or kosher poultry, preferably not shrink-wrapped. Their skin is noticeably thinner and crisps faster because it hasn’t been plumped with water.” If you have been told by a doctor to cut back on sodium, these types of birds are also what you should buy. A chicken from a farm that was killed that day and not processed at all is also a wonderful way to go.

Dry-processed chicken you might get from an organic or kosher market is typically more expensive than other wet-processed chicken because it takes about three days longer to get ready for sale. When I’m making a chicken for the family on a weeknight, I usually just buy a free-range chicken from my grocery store that was fed a vegetarian diet and is antibiotic and hormone free. Mostly, I get these chickens because it assuages my guilt, but part of me feels like they do taste better than caged chicken. Get what you want and what meets your budget.

Preparing

I always start the preparation process by putting on a pair of disposable gloves. I highly recommend this step especially if you are not accustom to handling raw meat. With gloves on, you are usually more confident in your movements because there is less of an “ick” factor.

Next, I run the bird under water. This washes off extra salt and liquid (and sometimes stray feathers) that are on the skin of the bird. After rinsing, I pat the bird dry with paper towels and immediately dispose of the paper towels.

I prefer to remove the spine of the bird when I prepare a chicken so it can lay flat to cook for a more consistent heat. When you prepare a chicken this way, it is called a spatchcock. If you are unfamiliar with this preparation, I highly recommend watching this video.

I use a pair of poultry shears instead of a knife when cutting out the spine of the chicken. It makes getting through bones and joints easier for me, and I don’t ever worry about pieces of chicken flying up toward my face the way it sometimes works when I use a knife. After using them, I immediately put the shears into the dishwasher (that my husband has opened for me with his non-chicken cutting hands).

Cooking

Warning: If you’re looking for a healthy chicken recipe, this recipe is not it. This recipe is blissfully delicious.

  • 1 whole frying chicken
  • 1 Tbl canola oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 shot cognac or dry red wine
  • 1 Tbl salted butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbl dried tarragon (or fresh, if you have it)
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tbl canola oil over medium-high heat (do not allow oil to reach smoke point). Place spatchcock back-side down in heated oil for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip spatchcock over and heat for another 4 to 5 minutes until skin is brown.

Move bird to a French or Dutch oven and briefly set aside.

Pour fat out of frying pan (wipe up any fat that has dripped onto side or bottom of frying pan) and return the pan to the stove top over medium heat. Pour in a shot of cognac and deglaze the pan. Add butter, black pepper, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. Saute the spices briefly as butter melts, and then pour in the cream. Heat the pan mixture for a minute or two until warm throughout, and then pour over the bird in the French or Dutch oven.

Roast in oven for 45 minutes, uncovered. When finished, the bird’s legs and wings should be very floppy when you poke them with a pair of tongs. Serve immediately. You may wish to lightly salt and pepper the chicken and sauce to finish on the plate.

This recipe works well with sauteed mushrooms and roasted vegetables. Based on the size of your bird, it can serve anywhere between 2 and 4 people. It might also be the best tasting chicken you’ve ever had.

Love the onions twice

Maybe Jim Morrison of The Doors was thinking of onions when he sang “Love Me Two Times.”

Love me one time
Yeah, my knees got weak
But love me two times, girl
Last me all through the week

If you treat onions well, they’ll return the favor. In this recipe, I let them first mellow out and develop sugars in some sizzling oil. Next, they are joined by some tomatoey friends in a relaxing hot tub to soften and find even more happiness. The onions are grinning ear to ear by the time they hit your plate.

I like this two-step cooking method, especially because all that onion goodness combines so well with the intensity of the roasted tomatoes. Finished with garlic butter, this dish packs a lot of flavor despite the simple ingredients.

Sauteed Garbanzos with Roasted Tomatoes over Whole Wheat Couscous

(makes three servings)

  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1 15 oz can organic garbanzo beans, drained
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, medium dice
  • 6 large roasted tomatoes, chopped (recipe here)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup whole wheat pearl couscous, cooked per package instructions (I like Riceselect)
  • 2 Tbs compound garlic butter (recipe here)

Heat canola oil over medium high heat, then add the drained garbanzo beans. Cook for two minutes, stirring frequently. Next, add the diced onion with a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue cooking for another three minutes, then add the tomatoes and water. Stir to combine, then cover and adjust heat to a simmer or around medium low. Cook for five minutes, then turn off heat, add in garlic butter, and stir to combine.

Serve over the cooked couscous, garnished with your favorite hot sauce or some fresh herbs.

Compound Garlic Butter

  • 1 stick salted organic butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat, then add the garlic with a pinch of salt and pepper. Adjust heat so the garlic is barely sizzling and cook until it becomes translucent, or roughly six minutes.

Let cool, then add to a food processor with the butter and puree until mostly homogeneous.

Transfer to a serving container and chill for later use.

Bananas Foster ice cream

One of my favorite desserts is Bananas Foster. I love the flavors of bananas, vanilla, and caramel mixed together, so I decided to combine them into a truly decadent ice cream creation.

Bananas Foster Ice Cream

  • 3 bananas
  • 2 Tbl white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea or lake salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp clear, white rum (optional)
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon just before serving (optional)

Turn on your oven’s broiler.

Cut bananas in half lengthwise and distribute them in the bottom of an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle 2 Tbl of sugar evenly over the top of the cut bananas. Set under the broiler until the sugar is bubbly, melted, and slightly brown (this is 5 minutes in my oven).

Move the bananas to a plate to cool and wipe down the cookie sheet. Lay down a piece of Silpat on the cookie sheet, and evenly pour 1/2 cup of sugar onto it. Stick the sugar under the broiler, and heat until the vast majority of the sugar is melted and has a light caramel color (about 4 minutes in my oven). Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and turn off the broiler. Drag the back of a silicon spatula through the sugar while it is still a liquid to make sure all of the sugar has melted.

Evenly sprinkle the 1/2 tsp of coarse sea or lake salt onto the top of the caramel while it is still tacky and warm.

While the caramel finishes cooling, cut up the bananas into the size of quarters and squeeze them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a potato ricer, use a potato masher. You don’t want to liquefy the bananas, rather you want for them to still have a somewhat recognizable consistency. (Sadly, the bananas do not look very appetizing at this point.)

Break up the sheet of caramel into large pieces and put it into a zip-top bag. Using a rolling pin, make the caramel shards the size of confetti. Gently fold the bananas and caramel bits together, and then put them in the refrigerator.

In your ice cream maker, combine 2 cups of heavy cream, 1 cup of sugar, and a splash of vanilla. Churn the liquid mixture until finished, making the base vanilla ice cream. At this point, add the banana and caramel mixture by the spoonful to the ice cream. Let the maker continue to churn the ice cream until well blended (about a minute in my machine).

At this point, if you choose, add the optional 1 tsp of clear, white rum until it is mixed into the ice cream (about 30 seconds) and then turn off your ice cream maker. Scoop the ice cream into an air-tight container and freeze until hard.

Very lightly sprinkle with cinnamon just before serving.

Banana cream pie ice cream

Follow the recipe above, except omit the steps relating to the creation of the caramel and, obviously, the rum. Instead, substitute two sheets of broken up graham crackers for the caramel.

Using science to go beyond simple cookie dough

Ah, the science of baking.

While Alton Brown does a great job incorporating science into all of his shows, my favorite chemical explanations happen on Good Eats: Chips for Sister Marsha. This is the episode where he alters the classic Nestle Toll House cookie recipe in three ways to create impressively different variations. I was won over with this episode, especially because he explains everything so thoroughly (with help from Cookie Monster’s brother). If you haven’t seen it, you can find the episode on YouTube: part one and part two.

At some point while watching the episode, it occurred to me that I could take these three recipes, order them by their ingredients, and highlight the scientific baking explanations within each grouping. Having the recipes in one place would also make it easy to try them all and contrast their differences. As a result, I made a chart to put in my recipe binder to help me in all my future cookie baking endeavors and I thought you might benefit from it, too:

If you’re interested in printing a copy of the cookie chart, you can download the PDF.

Beans and garlic, sitting in a tree

A few weeks ago, I watched a Rick Bayless cooking show where he mashed together a can of black beans with crushed garlic as a spread for a sandwich. This idea is so simple, yet I’d never thought to try it. I had to make some.

Sure enough, the garlicy flavor had made sweet aromatic love to the beans, creating a pungent spreadable base with plenty of uses.

Below are just two recipes for this delicious combination, but there are probably 46 million other uses as well. My guess is that mashed lentils would also work, and mashed garbanzo beans with garlic is pretty much half-way to hummus.

What’s important is to balance the richness of the garlic in the beans with fresh and bright sour flavors like tomato, hot sauce, or citrus.

Mashed Beans and Garlic

  • 1 or 2 minced large garlic cloves (I like to use a press for this so the garlic flavor really distributes)
  • 1 15 oz canned beans, or roughly 1 1/2 cups soaked dry beans and liquid
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Add oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt to a pan over medium heat. Cook for about 30 seconds to elicit a strong garlic flavor. For less intensity, adjust heat to medium low and cook until garlic becomes translucent, or about 3 minutes.

Dump in beans and liquid, then stir to combine. Use a potato masher to break up most of the beans, creating a thick chunky paste. Cook until heated through, or roughly 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust seasoning as desired, remove from heat, and reserve.

Black Bean and Garlic Breakfast Burrito with Cotijo Cheese and Lemon-Tomato Salsa

(makes 3 burritos)

  • 1 large tomato
  • 2 medium lemons
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 burrito-size tortillas
  • 3/4 cup reserved mashed black beans and garlic
  • 1/2 cup crumbled cotijo cheese
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 3 large eggs, beaten until fully combined

Dice the tomato into small cubes and place in a small bowl. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel from the lemon including all white parts, then cut out the fleshy wedges between each membrane. Dice these wedges then combine with the tomatoes and salt and pepper in the bowl. Mix well.

Keep the tortillas warm and pliable by wrapping them in foil and keeping them in a low temperature oven.

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a small non-stick pan, then scramble the eggs with a dash of salt and pepper.

Lay out the tortillas and spread each with the beans, then top with cojito cheese, scrambled eggs, and the salsa.

Add your favorite hot sauce to finish. Enjoy and follow up with some nice mint tea to improve your newly acquired garlic breath.

Cannellini Bean and Garlic Bruschetta

(makes roughly 3 cups)

  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 8 large leaves of basil
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 Italian baguette, sliced and toasted or grilled
  • reserved mashed Cannellini beans and garlic

Dice the tomato into small cubes and chiffonade the basil into thin strips, then combine in a bowl with the vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

Smear the baguette slices with the mashed beans and garlic, then top with the tomato mixture. Add extra basil and enjoy while discussing the finer points of Leguminosae and Allium Sativum.

Pantry staple: Spice Rub

A go-to meal in our home is what we call “spicy fish.” We’ll take a fillet of a mild fish (salmon, tilapia, mahi mahi), squeeze lemon juice over the top of it, rub in some Spice Rub (see below), wrap it up in a square of aluminum foil, and bake the fillets in the oven at 325ºF until their internal temperature reaches 145ºF (usually 20 to 35 minutes, based on the thickness and type of fish).

We serve the fillets alongside whatever vegetable is in season, and have a very simple and nutritious meal.

To make the meal even easier, we keep the Spice Rub on hand at all times in the house. It’s as much of a staple as salt and pepper for our family. A few times a year we mix up a batch, store it in a shaker, and use it regularly on meats and vegetables.

Our spices typically come from Penzeys, since their store is near where we live. But, we’ve started to find good flavors from Morton and Bassett spices, which are sold in many national chain grocery stores. I like making our own spice mix instead of buying one that is already mixed because we get to tweak the recipe to our specific preferences. Also, since we have most of the spices already in the cupboard, it’s less expensive to make than it is to buy.

Spice Rub

Based on Emeril’s “Rustic Rub” recipe, but with my family’s twist using Penzeys spices

  • 8 Tbl smoked Spanish paprika
  • 3-1/2 to 4 Tbl cayenne red pepper powder
  • 4 Tbl freshly ground Tellicherry Indian black pepper
  • 7 Tbl garlic powder
  • 3 Tbl California toasted onion powder
  • 7 Tbl Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbl dried (broken leaf) Mexican oregano
  • 3 Tbl dried French thyme

Mix ingredients well and store in a sealable shaker.

I recommend you play with the recipe to find exactly the combination that works best for you. Ours is hotter than Emeril’s version, but it isn’t so hot as to make anyone cry.

Customizable braised chicken lettuce wraps

Living in an RV means I don’t get to entertain guests very often. At the most, I’ve had a total of four people at once in my little home on wheels. However, it’s hard to ignore the joy I feel when I can help create a happy atmosphere of good food, kickin’ tunes, and drinks to keep the party going. A few weeks ago, I got to cook for a little get together at my friend’s place in Phoenix, using their kitchen to prepare dinner. I brought most of my own ingredients and the evening ended with wide smiles and full bellies.

Some concepts about entertaining began to flower in my head after that night, which is also where I got the idea to write about simplified menu construction for parties. Here are some more tips which have sprouted from that experience.

  • Get your guests involved and speed up the prep of vegetables by asking for help. Assuming you know your guests, it shouldn’t be too tough to round up some assistance. Using your own knife and cutting board first, demonstrate the size, shape, and cutting technique that your helper can copy. Give them a knife and cutting board and watch how quickly the prep gets done.
  • Demonstrate a technique or cooking process, stopping at important parts to show guests what’s going on in your pan. Talk about how you like to develop flavors in your cooking and what ingredient combinations you’ve enjoyed lately. Encourage guests to share as well.
  • Let guests taste as you go to whet their appetites and build anticipation for the finished product.
  • Create a meal with plenty of personal customizations so your guests can build exactly what they want. Recipes like tacos, fajitas, or lettuce wraps are all perfect for this because you can include a wide assortment of additions for endless adaptations.

This last point is directly related to the dinner I created for my friends a few weeks ago, which was when I put together some braised chicken lettuce wraps. I wanted to create a super moist and flavorful chicken filling with lots of optional additions to make the wraps customizable.

I accomplished this by including little bowls of diced cucumber, tomato, sliced green olives, and some hummus I whipped up earlier using a modified version of Erin’s recipe. My friends provided some of their own additional condiments as well, like some Sambal Oelek (a spicy chile and garlic sauce) which gave the wraps a welcome kick. The customizable nature of the wraps let us try different amounts of each ingredient which is something we all loved.

Braised Chicken Lettuce Wraps

(makes roughly 15 – 20 wraps)

  • 3 tsp coriander seed
  • 3 tsp cumin seed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 1 whole chicken, skin removed and cut into eight pieces (or 4 leg portions separated into drumsticks and thighs)
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup water or chicken broth
  • 1 head butter lettuce, washed and separated into individual leaves
  • 2 cups hummus
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
  • 1 1/2 cups diced tomato
  • 1 cup sliced green olives

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Toast the coriander and cumin over medium high heat in a pan until fragrant (about two minutes) then transfer to a coffee grinder and pulse until powdery. Mix this with the salt and pepper then rub into the chicken pieces.

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat on a stove burner and add 1 tsp canola oil. Cook chicken pieces in two batches until each side is golden brown (roughly four minutes per side, flipping once), using more oil as needed. If using a whole chicken, cut into pieces, arrange dark meat as the bottom layer of the dutch oven, then add white meat on top. No specific layering is needed if you are only using leg portions. Add the water or broth, cover, than transfer to the oven. Allow to braise for 45 minutes, or until chicken is falling off the bone.

Meanwhile, gather and arrange all other ingredients using individual bowls, lining them up for easy lettuce wrap assembly. Leave a space at the beginning of the line for the chicken when it comes out of the oven.

When chicken is done, transfer it to a cold plate and roughly break apart the largest pieces using two forks. When it has cooled enough to touch, use your fingers to remove and discard bones and cartilage while further breaking up the meat. Return meat to dutch oven with braising liquid and place with the other lettuce wrap ingredients. Enjoy with friends.

Simplified menu construction for parties

Ever been to a dinner gathering where some friends cook and you can choose what you want from a menu that they’ve created? I seriously love this kind of party. Back in the day, a friend of mine prepared and served up made-to-order sushi for guests at a New Years Eve party. Along with great drinks and a wonderful atmosphere, the occasion was made extra special by those little printed menus and his simple but beautiful food presentations. Giving guests an option seems to keep everyone happy.

That is, of course, unless your menu is overly complicated. It may sound appealing to provide your guests with a list of all of your favorites to accommodate as many preferences as possible, but if you include too many wildly different options you’ll end up going crazy with all the preparation and planning. But, there’s a solution to keeping it simple while maintaining the happy variety of a menu.

Plan out entree and appetizer ideas that could share a base recipe, providing the central ingredients used for all the menu options. Cooking a large quantity of the base recipe gives you a platform from which you will build variations and menu choices. Here are some examples:

The following dishes use roasted tomatoes and garlic

  • Penne with Parmesan Sauteed Zucchini and Roasted Tomato Sauce (vegetarian)
  • Crispy Baked Trout Topped with Yogurt and Dill on a Bed of Arugula with Roasted Tomatoes

These recipes are listed at the end of this post.

The following dishes use oven braised chicken

  • Linguine with chicken and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce
  • Chipotle chicken tacos with tomato-lime salsa and sour cream
  • Braised chicken and and Monterrey Jack cheese stuffed enchiladas topped with red and green chile sauces

These three recipes will appear in an upcoming SimpliFried post.

Look to your favorite restaurant menus for inspiration when writing your own. Be descriptive, so your menu can build anticipation in your guests when they read a detailed explanation of the care that goes into your cooking.

My first example above benefits by accommodating a vegetarian option, so I thought I’d use it to show how these recipes come together. What’s more, the base recipe can provide a theme for your gathering.

Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic

(makes roughly 4 portions for use in either dish)

  • 6 large tomatoes
  • 6 large garlic cloves still in their peel
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 325ºF and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Remove stem from tomatoes, then cut them in half across their equator. Scoop out and discard seeds and pulp. Arrange tomatoes on baking sheet cut side up. Scatter garlic cloves on baking sheet as well. Evenly drizzle olive oil on tomatoes, then add salt and pepper.

Bake for one hour, or until tomatoes are browned, wilted, and are starting to fall apart. Cool and reserve for further applications.

Penne with Parmesan Sauteed Zucchini and Roasted Tomato Sauce (vegetarian)

(serves four)

  • 1 lb box penne pasta
  • 3 large zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch coins (roughly 1.5 lbs)
  • 1.5 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbs Italian seasoning blend
  • 3 cups roasted tomatoes
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

In a large pot, bring some salted water to a boil and add the penne. Cook for nine minutes, or until al dente.

Meanwhile, combine Parmesan cheese with Italian seasoning blend in a bowl and mix well.

Bring a pan up to temperature over medium heat. Add the zucchini in one layer (working in batches), then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a big pinch of the cheese mixture to the tops of each piece of zucchini. Cook for five minutes, then flip each piece of zucchini so the cheese mixture is touching the pan. Cook for another two to three minutes, then use a plastic spatula to remove zucchini from pan. The cheese mixture should adhere and become crispy. Slice each piece in half and reserve.

Strain pasta and reserve a half cup of the cooking water.

Add the roasted garlic, roasted tomatoes, and reserved pasta water to the pot used for cooking the penne and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Using a stick blender, puree into a slightly chunky sauce. Turn off heat, adjust seasoning, then add the red wine vinegar.

Divide pasta between the plates, add the sauce, zucchini, and any remaining cheese mixture.

Crispy Baked Trout Topped with Yogurt and Dill on a Bed of Arugula and Roasted Tomatoes

(serves four)

  • 1 lb trout filet cut into 1/4 lb portions
  • 3 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
  • the juice from half a lemon
  • 3 roasted garlic cloves
  • 10 cups arugula
  • 2 cups roasted tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped fine
  • 3/4 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 500ºF and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Evenly arrange trout portions on baking sheet, leaving a two inch gap between each. Liberally rub 1 Tbl of the oil into each trout portion, then season with salt and pepper. Bake for roughly 11 minutes, turning once, or until the fish flakes easily. The surface should be bubbling and crisp. Let cool uncovered for four minutes.

In a large mixing bowl mash the roasted garlic into a paste using a fork. Then whisk this with the lemon juice and remaining 2 Tbl olive oil and a dash of salt. Add the arugula, roasted tomatoes, and dill. Toss to combine.

Divide the arugula mixture between the plates then add the trout. Top each portion with a generous dollop of the Greek yogurt and garnish with more dill.

Simple Green Chile Soup

Growing up in Kansas, the mountains of Colorado called to me from across the plains.

“Ski!” they demanded.

I couldn’t ignore their siren song, and so I drove across the state line and I skied.

During college, I once passed up the lodge experience and chose to house sit for a couple who lived near the resort. The couple made soup the night before they went on their trip, and they left a note explaining I was welcome to dine on the leftovers if I didn’t want to go into town.

Since I had just shelled out a hundred bucks for my week-long lift ticket and was ravenous after a day on the slopes, I was happy to save a few dollars and eat the soup.

It was the best soup I had ever eaten. At the time, I was convinced I was giving it such high marks because I was so hungry anything would have tasted incredible. I ate all of it. Every last, scrumptious drop.

After returning back to Kansas, I found myself still thinking about the soup. I was curious to know if the soup was really as good as I remembered it was, so I called the couple and asked if they could mail me the recipe.

There might be a little nostalgia in my taste buds, but it really is an incredible soup. It’s perfect after a day of skiing or any time you want a hearty soup to satisfy your hunger. Best of all, it’s a perfect soup for busy folks who don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Green Chile Soup

  • 2 to 3 lbs. chuck roast
  • 3 10-1/2 oz. cans chicken broth (or similar box broth equivalent)
  • 2 7 oz. cans chopped green chiles
  • 1 20 oz. can Ro-Tel brand diced tomatoes original style
  • 1 15 oz. can refried beans

Fill a crockpot with 1/4″ of water. On high, cook the chuck roast completely until it falls apart (in my crockpot, this usually takes three to four hours). Drain off the water, remove the fat, and shred up the roast. Pour in the cans of broth, the chopped green chiles, Ro-Tel tomatoes, and refried beans. Let the soup simmer on high for an hour, and then turn the crockpot to low until you are ready to eat (but I wouldn’t exceed five hours). We usually serve the soup with warm flour tortillas or tortilla chips, and grated cheddar cheese.

Staple secrets: Mashed potatoes

On a road trip during college, driving northeast about an hour out of St. Louis, I spotted a billboard that asked, “When was the last time you had real mashed potatoes?”

I repeated the question from the billboard aloud after I passed it and let out a big chuckle. I didn’t notice if the advertisement was for a restaurant or the U.S. Potato Board or exactly why it wanted to know about my relationship with mashed potatoes. It struck me as an odd billboard, though, and I’ve never forgotten the inquiry.

It has been more than 15 years since I saw that sign, and still it comes to mind whenever I’m making mashed potatoes. And, since I love mashed potatoes, I’ve thought about real mashed potatoes and that sign quite extensively.

Potatoes aren’t winning any first-place medals for nutrition (one large potato contains almost a quarter of your daily recommended carbohydrates), but they are rich in potassium, vitamin C, and dietary fiber. Assuming you aren’t eating mashed potatoes at every meal every day, I think they’re a great occasional side dish that fills you up, makes you happy, and gives your body energy. (You’ll also be able to answer the question about when the last time was you had real mashed potatoes!)

When I make mashed potatoes, I start by bringing a large pot of water to boil on the stove on high heat. Then, I peel three large Russet potatoes and cut them into 2″ cubes. The size of the cubes isn’t especially important — 1″ or 2.5″ or 3″ are fine — just make the cubes all the same size as each other so they can cook at the same rate.

Dump the potato cubes into the boiling water, turn the burner down to low, and cover. Twenty or 30 minutes later, you should have potatoes that a fork easily pierces without any effort. Strain the water and get out a large serving bowl.

I like to mash my potatoes using a ricer instead of a masher. I do this because the ricer takes extremely less effort than the masher, and because I think it makes the mashed potatoes lighter and less heavy. I put the mashed potatoes into the serving bowl temporarily at this point.

Once I’ve riced the potatoes, I melt half a stick of butter (salted) and 4 oz of cream cheese in the pot over low heat. When melted, I turn off the burner, add the potatoes back to the pot, and give everything a good stir. This is the point where I might also add 1/2 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, two tablespoons of chives, and/or two cloves of minced roasted garlic. I usually let the eater add finishing salt instead of adding during the cooking process.

How do you make mashed potatoes? What are your favorite add-ins? I’m of the opinion that recipes and preparation styles for this prolific and yummy staple should be shared. So, tell us your mashed potato secrets.

Elastic crispy cheese breakfast scramble

What comes to mind when you hear the term “grilled cheese edges?” Anyone who’s made a grilled cheese sandwich knows that the molten cheese often escapes the bread, oozing out to the pan with a distinctive sizzle. That little puddle of cheese will brown and crisp up, creating luscious new texture and flavor. Just ask Chef John from foodwishes.com who makes a grilled cheese sandwich that maximizes this entire idea. Genius.

But this recipe isn’t about grilled cheese sandwiches — it’s about breakfast scrambles. In the past, I used to take my eggs, scramble them, then add yummy flavor combinations with meats, cheeses, vegetables, and herbs. Normally, I’d just add the cheese at the end, sprinkled on top so it can melt over the eggs using residual heat. The cheese never touches the hot pan so it can’t develop flavor like it does in a grilled cheese sandwich. This made me want to try something new.

I started with a base of soyrizo (soy-chorizo). Breakfast sausage or diced ham would work just as well for what I wanted to try. I measured out what I thought would be a good amount of the soyrizo to go with two eggs, then shaped it into a flat little pile and cooked it over medium heat in a non-stick pan. As it cooked, I thinly sliced some pepperjack cheese and layered it on top of the soyrizo. It began to melt. With my spatula, I pulled the mixture in different directions, letting the cheese touch the pan instead of just using the soyrizo as a little life raft. This let the cheese develop that grilled cheese crust while holding on to the soyrizo so it wouldn’t become a sticky mess.

Three minutes later, I flipped it over in pieces, let it cook a few more minutes, chopped it up using my spatulas, then added my egg mixture to the pan. Salsa seemed like a welcome addition since I was using soyrizo, so I added some to the eggs as they scrambled.

The soft texture of the eggs combined with the crispy edges of the chorizo and cheese produced pure breakfast magic. I will definitely be using this technique again.

Elastic Crispy Cheese Breakfast Scramble

  • 1/3 cup prepared breakfast meat (cooked breakfast sausage, soy or regular chorizo, diced strips of ham)
  • cheese (enough to cover breakfast meat in one even layer)
  • two eggs, beat together with a little water in preparation for scrambing
  • optional additions: salsa, sauteed vegetables, herbs, hot sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bring a non-stick pan up to temperature over medium heat. Add breakfast meat in a small, flat pile and cook for one minute. Layer cheese on top while breakfast meat is cooking.

When the cheese starts to melt, gently pull the pile apart so cheese drapes on to the surface of the pan. Cook for two to three minutes, or until cheese starts to crisp.

Mix your optional sauteed vegetables and/or herbs with your beaten egg mixture.

Flip breakfast meat and cheese and cook for another minute. Chop up contents of pan using two plastic spatulas, then add in beaten egg mixture. As contents of pan set, gently fold over as you would with scrambled eggs until cooked thoroughly (about three minutes).

Serve topped with additional add-ins like salsa or hot sauce.

Hummus, on standby

If I can avoid it, I won’t call my mother in the evenings. She is retired, loves to cook, and each night is a culinary adventure in her home. I’ve had to call her twice in the past week after 5:00 p.m., and both times I’ve hung up the phone envious of her dinner plans. Monday night she made fried chicken with roasted potatoes, chicken gravy, and green beans with almonds — I don’t even like chicken very much, and I wanted to hop a plane to Kansas to get my hands on the leftovers.

This month has been overwhelmingly busy for my family. Mealtime has stopped being adventurous and has been nothing but tried-and-true standbys. When I was a kid and my mom worked three jobs, her cooking repertoire wasn’t all that varied, either. Monday night was taco night, Tuesdays we had ham and cheese casserole, Wednesdays were homemade pizzas, and so on and so forth throughout the rest of the week. We only had things like my mom’s famous fried chicken when stress levels lifted.

My family isn’t yet at the point where we have the same meal each Monday night, but we are only having things made from recipes I’ve committed to memory. I’m not trying anything new — I simply don’t have the mental energy right now.

One of our family’s standby recipe is hummus. We’ll have it as a side to an entree, an appetizer, or an afternoon snack. It doesn’t look incredibly appetizing (and I am far from being the world’s best photographer), but it’s yummy and nutritious. It’s rich in protein, dietary fiber, folate, copper, calcium, and iron. Best of all, it is incredibly easy to make.

Hummus

  • 19 oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic — either raw, minced and sauteed, or not included if you use garlic salt instead of the previously listed Kosher salt
  • For finishing: 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil and an 1/8 tsp smoked or sweet paprika

Pour drained chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and salt into your blender. If you want a strong, almost stinging quality in your hummus, toss two raw cloves of garlic into the blender, too. If you want a mild garlic flavor, first mince and lightly saute the garlic in a teaspoon of olive oil, strain, and then add the garlic to the blender. If you want a hint of garlic, use garlic salt instead of Kosher salt.

Blend the ingredients together until smooth, it should have a similar appearance to a milkshake. If you don’t want to use your blender, you can also use a food processor or a hand blender.

When serving, garnish with 1/2 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and an 1/8 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika. Use as a spread or a dip with pita or raw carrots. From start to finish, this recipe should take less than 5 minutes to prepare. This recipe makes approximately 2-1/2 cups of hummus.

Optional additions

  • Olive lovers might want to add 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, drained
  • Use cooked white beans instead of chickpeas for a white bean dip
  • Roast or grill a poblano or jalapeno pepper, remove the skin, and blend it in for a peppery kick
  • Add 2 teaspoons massaman curry powder for a Thai influence
  • Add 2 teaspoons Indian curry powder for an Indian influence

What are some of your standby recipes? Tell us your favorites in the comments.