Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Almond 5 Spice Snickerdoodles

There's something about fall and spices that just fits together right.  Spices are like a warming blanket, making your food soul-soothing and deliciously multi-faceted.  Whenever the temps outside start to drop, I start subconsciously moving towards foods with spice.  And it's not just me.  Think about what starts selling in fall: pumpkin SPICE, SPICED apple cider...we're just craving that warm feeling!

One spice blend that I adore is a good Chinese 5 Spice.  You can get it pre-mixed, or find several recipes for making your own throughout the internet.  I suggest getting it from a good quality spice company, for the most complex flavor.  Chinese 5 Spice is a blend of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, and fennel. It's typically used in savory dishes, but I have found that I'm addicted to it in sweets. 5 Spice caramels?  Fageddaboutit.  Simply amazing.

So, once again, my culinary brain gets a bit twisted.  The kids and I made snickerdoodles the other week, and as we were rolling them in cinnamon and sugar, that inner kitchen alchemist in me whispered, "Chinese 5 Spice..."

And that was it.  Well, not quite.  I decided to play around a little more and add almonds into the equation, reminiscent of those bright gold cookies that you get with your take-out Chinese food, but a million times better, because SPICES!

This recipe is quick, easy, and makes about 4 dozen cookies.  Probably more than that, but I kept eating dough.  Yes, I know it's not good for me.  No, I'm not really concerned.  Yes, I'm not the best role model.  Be better than me.

Grab 2 sticks (1 cup) or butter out and let them soften.

Preheat the over to 400 and get a couple of cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the softened butter with a cup and a half of sugar and 2 eggs, until they are fully combined.

In another bowl or large measuring cup, mix together 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup almond meal, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 Spice powder.

Mix the dry into the wet until you have a smooth dough.

In a small bowl or dish, mix 1/4 cup sugar with 2 teaspoons Chinese 5 Spice powder.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls, then roll each ball in the sugar/spice mixture, and place it on the parchment-covered baking sheet.  Space them out far apart; thanks to all that butter, they will spread!  I think 8 cookies to a sheet is the max I would venture to try.

Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes, until the edges are slightly golden brown.

Let cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes before sliding them off with a spatula to another surface to cool.

Enjoy warm from the oven, or keep in a container for as long as they last once everyone discovers how delicious they are.  Or a couple of weeks, whichever comes first.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Asian Meatloaf with Honey-Sriracha Glaze

That crazy inner kitchen alchemist inside of me has been at work again...

A couple of weeks ago, the faint whisper on the breeze came to me.  "Asian Meatloaf..." it called.  "Think garlic, onion, ginger, and miso.  Think honey and sriracha.  Think savory and sweet and spicy."  It became my siren song, invading my thoughts randomly throughout the days.  Until I was finally able to find the time and focus to make it tonight.

So.  Freaking.  Good.

This recipe makes 2 short meatloaves, which fed my starving just-marched-in-a-parade family of 5 with a few slices left over.  You can easily halve it to just make one loaf.

Heat your oven to 375, and grease 2 loaf pans.

Chop a bunch of green onions, 4 cloves of garlic, and one stalk of celery into small pieces.

In a large bowl, mix 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, mirin, and white miso paste, a 1 inch piece of ginger, grated, 2 eggs, the chopped veggies, and 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs.  Mix it thoroughly.  I find that the best way is by using my hands.

Once the meat mixture is ready, divide it into the two loaf pans.  I like to shape it so that it's a bit sloped down to the sides, but I have no real reason for doing that.

Pop them into the oven for 40 minutes.  While the meatloaves are baking, prep your glaze and toppings.

In a small bowl, mix 4 tablespoons honey, one teaspoon sriracha, and 2 teaspoons of soy sauce.  This will be your glaze.

In another small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of panko with 1 tablespoon of sliced or crumbled nori (dried seaweed).  This is totally optional, but I like to have a little something interesting on top.

After the 40 minutes, take the loaves out of the oven and brush the honey sriracha glaze on top.  Then sprinkle on the panko/nori topping.  Put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the glaze has set onto the meatloaves and you can hardly handle how delicious it all smells.

Remove the pans from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes before removing the meatloaf from the pans.  Slice and serve.

It's everything I hoped it would be.  Savory, but with a tinge of sweet spiciness.  If you like things with a little more kick, feel free to add some sriracha in with the meat mixture too, or up the amount in the glaze.

Serve with some sauteed Asian veg on the side, and you've got a meal that will knock your kimono off.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cowboy Beans

Cowboy Beans.  What can I say?

You know that I usually prefer to post quick recipes, that you can get together on a hectic day.  This is not quite one of those.  I mean, it can be made on a hectic day and be a great, comforting dinner to soothe your soul after the craziness, but it's a lot of "do this then wait".

First, you have to soak the beans for 8 hours, and then cook them for 2, and that's before you bake the final product for another hour.  If you use dry beans, that is, which I prefer.  If you want to go with drained and rinsed canned beans, I wouldn't blame you.  And it would cut a good 10 hours off of this process.  But sometimes, if you have the time to spare, the extra time is worth it.  So I'm going to give you the long version this time, and if you're using canned beans, just ignore the first couple of steps.  Sound like a plan?

So, take a cup and a half of dried beans.  I found a great mix of dried beans of all colors, and decided to give them a go.  I really like using a mix of beans in my baked beans, because it mikes it more interesting.  Some people call it "calico beans" when you use multiple types of beans, so I guess these could be Calico Cowboy Beans, but why complicate things?

Sort through the beans and pick out any stones.  I've never found any, but all the directions I've ever read about using dried beans says to do this, so I'm guessing there's a good reason for it.  Give them a good rinse, and then put them in a pot and cover with clean water until the water is over them beans by an inch.  Let them sit at room temp for 8 hours.  I threw mine in after I made the kids breakfast this morning, then let it sit all day while I was at work.

After the 8 hours, drain the soaking water and rinse the beans.  Then put them in the pot again and cover them with clean water until they are submerged at least an inch.  Bring the beans and water to a boil and then cover and simmer for around 2 hours, until the beans are tender.  Watch the liquid to make sure it doesn't all evaporate and start burning the beans, but this part is pretty hands-off.  I set it boiling as the kids were getting home from school, and just let it simmer while we worked on chores and homework.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Chop an onion into a small dice.  Take a pound of ground beef and brown it in a large pan with the onion.  If you have some bacon on hand, chop that and throw it in too, if you'd like.  I had some bacon fat on hand, so I threw in a little of that for the smoky flavor.

Once that is browned, mix in about a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce, 4 tablespoons molasses or sorghum, a teaspoon of chili powder, and 2 tablespoons of your favorite vinegar.  I used a black mission fig balsamic this time, but apple cider vinegar is a pretty standard go-to.  Give it a good stir and bring it up to a simmer.

Drain the beans and add them to the meat mixture.  Pour it into a baking dish.  Pop it into the oven to cook for an hour at 350 degrees.

Serve with some cornbread and some veg, and BOOM...comfort food dinner.  It's meaty, it's kicky, it's sweet.  Great grub to rustle up for your family.

Monday, September 8, 2014

CSA Summer Weeks 5 and 6: Bacon, Kale, and Potato Comfort Dinner

Wow, computer issues have plagued me, and between that, the kids going back to school, and me starting a new job, I feel like I've totally neglect the blog for the last couple of weeks.  Yikes.

So, it's time to jump back in, full speed ahead!

I have 2 weeks of CSA shares that I'm back-logged on, but luckily, the recipe I have for you today uses things included in both of them.

Week 5 brought tomatoes, more ground cherries, potatoes, garlic, hot and sweet peppers, spinach, a leek, and kale.

Week 6 gave us more tomatoes, kale, broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, onions, hot and sweet peppers, and collard greens.  I swapped some thyme in the swap box to get more tomatoes.

With my own garden going nuts with tomatoes, I blanched, peeled, and froze the tomatoes both weeks,  They will make for awesome gumbo this winter.  I'm experimenting with a muffin recipe for the ground cherries...hopefully bloggable soon.  The sweet peppers have been put into lunches, the broccoli as well, and the hot peppers will go into anything where I need some extra heat.  Spinach and kale from the first week: frozen.  The garlic will go into many things, but I'm also saving a couple of heads to plant in my own garden!  We had tacos and used the lettuce and onions.  The collards are kind of a bear to cook, because you have to cook them for a while, but they are so yummy when you do...those will be for a dinner side later in the week.

With the kale from the second week, a little of that garlic, and the potatoes from both weeks, I made a healthy, hearty, and delicious meal that my family ate right up: Bacon, Kale, and Potato Dinner.

It's filling, full of garden fresh ingredients, and completely crave-worthy.  If you have a problem getting your kids to eat kale, try this dish.  I based it on a recipe from Tribeca Nutrition, but amped up the bacon.  I also switched in stock instead of water, to keep the flavors coming, and backed down on the soy sauce.  The whole thing takes right around a half hour to make.  I have a feeling that this will be a great go-to dish after cold winter days spent playing in the snow!

So, first prep a large bunch of kale.  Get a pot of water boiling.  Tear the leaves off of the thick stems of the kale, give them a quick wash, then put them in the boiling water for about 5 minutes.  Drain and rinse it through with cold water to stop the cooking.  Squeeze it in a towel or paper towels to get it completely dry, then give it a good chop up.

Next, prep your potatoes.  Scrub, dry, and chop them into pieces about 1-2 inches.  I used both weeks' worth of potatoes, which was probably about 6 pounds.  This will work with any type of potato, but I used the red potatoes.

Chop and cook your bacon in a large pan until crispy and golden.  The original recipe called for 2 slices, but it also had less potatoes, and I love bacon.  So...I went with a half pound of center cut bacon.  Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of the bacon drippings, and put your bacon to the side for now.

Chop several cloves of garlic.  I went with 5 cloves.  We also love garlic.

In the pan with the bacon grease, cook your potatoes until they are getting brown on all sides.  Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, until it starts to smell irresistible.  Add in a little (not much!) salt and some pepper.  Add in a cup of water or stock (I used vegetable stock), cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the liquid cooks out.  If you need to, you can add some liquid if the potatoes are not cooked but the liquid is gone.

Add in your bacon, the kale, and a tablespoon of soy sauce.

Give it a good stir, then cover and heat it through for 2-3 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Honey Nasturtium Muffins

So, I have to admit...the kitchen alchemist in me has been at work again.  This time, I present to you: Honey Nasturtium Muffins!

The inspiration behind this was pretty basic.  Flowers and honey.  I started looking at the nasturtiums growing in my garden and trying to think of new ways to use them.  Nasturtiums have a radish-like peppery flavor, and as I watch a bee dive in and out of flowers, I started thinking about how that might work with the sweetness of honey.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Preheat your oven to 400.  Prepare a muffin pan.  Melt 1/4 cup of butter.

Grab some fresh nasturtiums.  If you don't have them in your garden, check in the produce department with the containers of herbs, or at farmers' markets and garden centers.  Make sure to give them a quick rinse and shake, because one of the reasons they're so great in the garden is that they attract insects and keep them away from your other plants.  They may have buggie little friends along for the ride, which is not great eating.  Chop up the flowers, and feel free to use the leaves as well.  They have the same great flavor.

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Toss the chopped nasturtiums in with the flour mixture.

In a 2-cup measure or larger, combine 1 cup milk, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of honey, and the melted butter.  Make sure to mix in the honey well, as it will tend to settle to the bottom.

Combine the wet with the dry and mix until just combined.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4s full, then bake for 15-18 minutes.  When the muffins are golden and smell like heaven, let the cool a bit, then feel free to drizzle a little extra honey on top.

These muffins are sweet, but not too sweet, and the nasturtium adds just enough of a kick to keep things interesting.  My kids couldn't get enough of them!  I slathered mine with butter and sighed with happiness as I took each bite.

Good food just makes you feel good.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

CSA: Summer Week 4 and Ground Cherry Crumble

Week 4 of our bi-weekly CSA share brought a huge bounty, and included some pleasant surprises.  

Beets, carrots, tomatoes, thyme, pattypan, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and summer squash, and u-pick options of both green beans and cherry tomatoes...which also included ground cherries!  Seeing as how we have cherry tomatoes out the wazoo in our home garden, we just went full out on the ground cherries.  I had to stop my middle kiddo from snacking her way through the bush as we picked, because she loves these little suckers so much.

We'll get back to those ground cherries soon, I promise.

As for the rest of the share, I quickly roasted the beets and pureed them to freeze.  While they were in the oven, I skinned, crushed, and bagged the tomatoes to freeze.  The carrots will be used for lunches and snacking, as will the green beans.  I made a delicious creamy garlic potato dish with the potatoes and some of the thyme that supposedly is the recipe used at Disneyland...aah, the power of the internet.  More of the time went in a saute with the zucchini as another veggie side.  The other squash will probably follow suit later this week.

As for the ground cherries...despite their heritage as a nightshade, related to tomatoes and eggplants, and in spite of the fact that we could just snack on these gems of flavor raw until they were all devoured...they were meant to be a dessert.

In fact, I actually picked extra ground cherries up at the city farmers' market, because I knew that it would be a dessert that we didn't want to share.  I'm not known for my willingness to share desserts.  The hubs loves to tell the story of one of our first dates, where he went to sample a forkful of the dessert I ordered and I, in a gut reaction, deftly swept his fork away with my knife.  He quickly learned that the best approach is to offer me some of his dessert, and then politely ask permission for a bite of mine.  Even then, not guaranteed.  I am serious about my sweets.

So, with the hereditary stinginess of desserts in mind, I decided to make individual Ground Cherry Crumbles.  You could also make this into one large crumble, but it's an easy enough dessert to make that everyone can delight in their own little dish.

Ground cherries are really hard to describe, flavor-wise.  They have the texture of a tomato, but the flavor is reminiscent of pineapple and other tropical fruits.  They are very versatile, and can dart on either side of the line between sweet and savory.  But you already know where I landed on that one.

So, on to the recipe.  Get as many ground cherries as you can, and take the paper husks off.  I enlisted the help of my girls, who made short work of the job.  And only ate a few.  It helped that I let them make the rest of the dessert with me as well.  We ended up with just shy of 4 cups of ground cherries.

Give them a quick rinse and dry, and then put them into individual oven-proof dishes, or one big dish, if you'd like.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour together, and sprinkle that over the ground cherries.  Toss them together a bit.  Once they start baking and release their juice, this will turn it into a nice syrup.

Mix another 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar with a cup of oats and 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter, chopped up, until it looks like coarse crumbs.

Sprinkle the crumble over the ground cherry mixture, and give it a little press down.

Pop into the oven for about 30-40 minutes for individual dishes, longer for one large dish.  You might want to put the dishes on a baking tray, in case things bubble over a bit.  You want the filling to be bubbly and the top to be golden and firm.

Serve as is, or top with a scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream.

CSA - Summer Week 3 and Summer Veg Empanadas with Kohrabi, Kale, and Summer Squash

Week 3 of the summer CSA was a huge haul:

Kohlrabi, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, potatoes, onions, lettuce, basil, and kale.  Leaning towards the green side this week, but I had some immediate thoughts as to what would be made in the kitchen.

The cukes and lettuce will be used in salads and for snacking, along with some of the kale.  The potatoes will make a great side for a dinner, and so will the zucchini with some of the onions.  I'm thinking of making a basil cake with the basil.  But the main dish to come out of this haul uses the kohlrabi, some kale, some onion, and summer squash: Summer Veg Empanadas.

Empanadas are basically a type of hand pie, but the name sounds so much nicer.  I'm not sure how "authentic" my version is, but they are delicious, and the kids tend to go for anything in pocket form, so this is a good way to get extra veg in them.

If you have a fantastic homemade pie crust recipe and the time to make it, do that!  But honestly, I'm usually scrambling around dinner time, so I go with an organic pre-made dough most times.  Whichever you choose, prep your pie crust dough.

Next, you're going to need a couple of kohlrabi.  You might only need one big one, as some of them can be huge!  Kohlrabi look like an alien veg, but they are really delicious.  They taste similar to broccoli stems to me, mild and crisp.

Cut off the skins of the kohlrabi, then cut them into small cubes.  Set them aside for now.

 Dice up a medium onion, crush a couple of cloves of garlic, and grate some fresh ginger.  Saute all those in some butter and/or olive oil until the onion starts to get translucent and your kitchen smells fantastic.

Add in the kohlrabi and some salt and pepper.  Cook over medium to low heat for 5 minutes.

While that's cooking, slice up some summer squash into pieces the same size as your kohlrabi pieces.

Chop up some fresh kale until you have about a half cup chopped.  Add the squash and kale to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Test it for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Take it off the heat and let cool a bit.

While the filling is cooling, get your dough ready.  You can cut large circles and fold them in half when filled, which is more traditional, or you can use a smaller circle, like a glass or jar, and make little round pies.

Cut all the rounds you can, and feel free to re-roll dough scraps to make more.

Preheat your oven to 425.

Fill the rounds with the veg filling, leaving room around the edges to seal.

Cover or fold, and seal with a fork.  My kids love this job.

 Place the prepared empanadas on baking sheets covered with parchment.  I usually end up with 2 sheets full, about 32 small empanadas.

In a small bowl, mix an egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk.

Use a basting brush to gently brush the empanadas with the egg wash.  This will give them a lovely glossy tan color as they bake.

Bake the empanadas for 6-8 minutes, until they are crispy and golden.

These can be a side dish, or a meat-free main course.  They are also great little snacks.  Heck, I'd even serve these for breakfast.  Empanadas and bacon for everyone!