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*fry day.

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There are several things in the kitchen that frighten me—grilling, roasting whole birds, serving fruit with meat—but few are as daunting as frying. There's just something about roiling oil that doesn't seem particularly friendly to my unique brand of clumsiness.

As a rule, though, not having deep-frying skillz as part of my repertoire hasn't been too limiting; because I love my bread with butter and my grits with cheese, my body isn't protesting that I lack fat-giving prowess in that one area. I happen to be fussy about my fried foods, anyway—though French fries are among my most favorite guilty pleasures, I don't have that Southern affection for fried okra, country-fried steak, or big, bone-filled pieces of fried chicken.

I do, however, in the not-so-secret recesses of my brain, carry an unrelenting torch for boneless fried chicken—thin, cutlet-size pieces of breast with super crunchy, super spicy outsides. I don't have much use for it if it isn't assaulted with cayenne pepper; I'm never going to be someone who orders the chicken fingers off restaurant menus, but I will walk over hot coals listening to Ann Coulter's voice for a Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich.

(SHAME. I feel shame.)

I love this recipe, which I adapted from Food.People.Want, because it's sort of infinitely forgiving. I managed to have the wrong size pot, not enough oil, and a propensity for knocking the candy thermometer into the floor with every ungainly movement. (Truly. I stopped counting after it skittered across the kitchen for the 11th time as I scrambled out of the way in my best attempts to avoid a 325-degree projectile.) But with the right guidance, and a little patience, I came away with four delicate, subversively spicy, sinfully crispy pieces of chicken.

I won't give the recipe for the haricots verts you see here, because it amounted to shallots + garlic + beans = undercooked blahness. I will, however, reveal my secret to luscious, creamy, stick-your-whole-face-in-the-pot mashed potatoes:

PEEL POTATOES.
CHOP POTATOES.
BOIL POTATOES.
MASH POTATOES.
SALT POTATOES.
BUTTERMILK.
BUTTER.
DIE.

I didn't marinate the chicken overnight, and while I think it would be even more spicy and tenderized if I had, it was still delicious without the extra soaking time. I topped the chicken with a little chopped tomato and a spritz of lemon juice to balance the richness, plus a drizzle of ranch dressing to temper the heat and ... add more richness.

Oops.

I will be making this again, and often. Please don't tell my mother. Or my mirror.

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Spicy Fried Chicken Cutlets
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken cutlets
1 tablespoon paprika
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 eggs
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil
Lemon wedges
Garnishes: chopped tomatoes, ranch dressing

1. Whisk together buttermilk and 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper; add chicken, and marinate at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Combine paprika and next 7 ingredients. In a shallow dish, lightly beat eggs with hot sauce. In a separate shallow dish, combine flour with 1 teaspoon black pepper. Remove chicken from marinade, and sprinkle both sides of each cutlet liberally with paprika mixture. Dip chicken in egg mixture, and dredge in flour mixture, shaking off excess flour.

3. Heat oil over medium-high heat until temperature reaches 325 degrees on a candy thermometer. Fry chicken, in batches, 4 minutes or until golden brown. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve. Sprinkle with lemon juice, and garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

2 comments

*sandwich story.

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To my mind, there aren't many things that fill, comfort, and satisfy quite like a sandwich. There's the ohskrewit-ness of eating with your hands, the infinite possibilities for ingredients, and the textural coup that's almost impossible to achieve with anything else.

The genius is in the simplicity of the formula: 2 pieces [carbohydrate of choice] plus whatever you want. When I'm planning to feed any group of unknowns—a crowd, strangers, anyone with dietary constraints, picky picky picky people—I almost always default to the sandwich.

There should be some attention paid to balance, but it's not a difficult trick to master; you want something crisp, something crunchy, something hearty, and something creamy, but those can be in any combination you desire:

romaine lettuce + tomato + Monterey Jack + avocado
iceberg + bacon + smoked turkey + fried egg
arugula + whole-grain mustard + roast beef + horseradish mayonnaise
cucumber + red onion + smoked salmon + cream cheese

See? Easy! (Note: This is the only kind of math I'm comfortable with.)

I like a certain rawness to my sandwiches—I'm less attached to toasted bread and melty cheese, although of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with either. There is just something devil-may-care about eating with your hands, biting into something that's a perfect package of all your favorite things.

This one, actually, isn't my favorite. It comes courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis, and I love it because of its unexpected inclusion of egg crepes. (Stay with me.) She serves these on focaccia, and I think they would have been vastly improved by it if my grocer only carried it. I settled for a seeded Italian bread; the flavor was nice, but it was too densely chewy and tough. Also, she calls them "Mini Italian Club Sandwiches"—she's marketing them as appetizers—but they lack a few of the things I love best about club sandwiches, namely lettuce and tomato. I used reduced-fat pesto here, but it was doomed from the start: Pesto has a delicate flavor that is probably nice with the Giada's choice of bread, and the reduced-fatness would likely have passed by unnoticed, but in this case it never had a chance. The taste was sucker-punched by the bread, and in the end it wound up playing an almost invisible role.

The egg crepes are easy, and worth it. It helps to have a little extra egg at the ready so that you can try one or two to determine how your stovetop idiosyncrasies are going to affect the outcome. Don't let them brown; soft and creamy is the way to go. They add a lovely, unexpected layer of texture that makes even an addict like me forget there's no mayonnaise.

They're also beautifully elegant and will make people eyeball you as though you are a kitchen genius, so ... there's that.

Too many substitutions and alterations sort of conspired to make this version a little less-than, but I highly recommend trying the recipe as written. (I've done that before, and they turned out deliciously.)

Or just slap everything in your pantry and refrigerator between two pieces of bread for instant happiness.

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Giada's Italian Club Sandwiches
10 bacon strips
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 (8-ounce) round loaves focaccia bread (7-inch diameter)
1 cup prepared pesto
½ pound thinly sliced turkey
4 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425. Place bacon on a foil-lined sheet pan, and bake until browned and crispy. Set aside.

2. Whisk together eggs, cream, salt, and pepper until well blended. Heat a 6-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Brush the skillet with some butter. Pour enough egg mixture into the pan to just coat the bottom of the pan, swirling to distribute evenly. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until egg crepe is just set. Invert a plate over the skillet and turn the skillet over, allowing the egg crepe to drop onto the plate. Repeat to make 4 crepes total, brushing the skillet with melted butter as needed between crepes.

3. Cut the focaccia in half horizontally, and place directly on oven rack in center of oven until lightly toasted. Spread pesto over the toasted sides of each halved focaccia. Divide the egg crepes, turkey, provolone, and bacon equally among two pieces of focaccia; top with remaining two pieces of bread. Cut each sandwich into bite-size pieces. Makes 6 servings.

0 comments

*tikka my solace.

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Tikka masala, from what I understand, is a mostly British invention, one that—aside from the flavor profiles—doesn't have a whole lot to do with authentic Indian cooking. I happen to love authentic Indian cooking, or what passes for it in the Deep South. (Although I'm pretty sure the dishes are closer to the homeland in more diverse metropolises; I once ordered the spiciest dish on the menu at an Indian restaurant in DC—not out of false bravado, but because I thought it sounded good—and the waiter good-naturedly refused to bring me more than one glass of water because he didn't think I could handle the heat. It was insane, and amazing, and blistering, and I was high for hours afterward.)

Still, I'm not sure why some people turn their nose up at anything that deviates from tradition. If I love something, chances are I'm going to love its bastardization just as much! If not more! See Mexican Salad Pizza, for heaven's sake. Most of the Mexicans I know would be all, "Take our name off that, por favor."

This, like most popularized perversions of culinary conventions, is quintessential comfort food. I prefer an adaptation of Pastor Ryan's version, courtesy of The Pioneer Woman. There's heat here, to be sure, but it's not the eyes-watering sort. (My 15-month-old niece loved this, after grocery store limitations forced me to omit the jalapeños.) The cream—and there is plenty of it; comfort food comes at the expense of waistlines—mitigates any aggressive spiciness and leaves behind a soothing warmth that's perfection on cold nights after stressful days.

I usually do add a jalapeño, and I find that my chicken has to be much closer to the broiler than Ryan suggests to get the blackening effect (which is delicious). I use Greek yogurt, because I like the gentle sourness and the easy way it sticks to the chicken. The turmeric in the rice isn't necessary—I don't find that it adds any flavor, particularly—but that electric color is spectacular. You'll want the peas, too, which Ryan says are optional; they cut some of the richness. I can live without the sugar, because I generally think canned tomatoes aren't that acidic, but I'll leave it in the recipe for those who want an extra touch of sweetness. Don't be put off by strange words like "garam masala"—it's a spice mixture that, if you can find it in my neighborhood market, you can find anywhere. Aside from broiling the chicken this is essentially a two-pan meal, so it's perfect for a weeknight dinner. And it's easy to adjust the quantities depending on how many people you need to feed.

LSis tends to call this "chicken marsala," which confuses me because that's a dish of a different color, but I will say to you what she says to me when I correct her: "Whatever," tikka masala. I love you, ya crazy bastard.

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Tikka Masala
3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground coriander, to taste
Ground cumin, to taste
½ cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 cups basmati rice
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, minced
3 tablespoons garam masala
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1½ cups heavy cream
6 ounces frozen peas
Fresh cilantro leaves

1. Preheat broiler to high heat. Season chicken breasts with kosher salt, coriander, and cumin. Dip chicken breasts in yogurt, coating all sides. Place on a baking sheet under broiler, and cook 5 to 7 minutes per side. (It should have slightly blackened edges.) Remove from oven, and let cool slightly.

2. Bring 4 cups of water, 4 tablespoons butter, turmeric, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt to boil in medium saucepan. Stir in rice; reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 20 minutes.

3. In a large, deep skillet, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat; add onions, and sauté until lightly browned. Stir in garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt; cook 30 seconds. Stir in jalapeño and garam masala until well mixed; add tomatoes. Stir in sugar, if desired. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 5 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to low, and stir cream into sauce. Chop cooked chicken, add to sauce, and cook until heated through. Stir in cilantro.

4. Add peas to cooked rice, stirring until heated through. Top rice with chicken and sauce, and garnish with more fresh cilantro leaves. Makes 6 servings.

0 comments

*i'll just have a salad.

mexpizza


Every time I watch Giada de Laurentiis make something on her show that requires pizza dough, she says (Food Network chefs are notoriously repetitive), "Use your favorite pizza dough recipe, or do what I do—go down to your favorite local pizzeria and just ask for some dough."

Is that strange? It seems more than a little odd to me. I'm not going to go to my local hamburger joint and ask if they can just give me a few patties for tonight's dinner.

The problem with pizza dough, though, is that it requires all the chemistry and grace of baking, PLUS yeast, which, of course is my nemesis. I don't know how it's supposed to work, because it never has for me. And then there's all that proofing, the put-it-in-a-warm-place-to-rise business that's far too demanding yet inexact for me. The Woodside heat is set firmly at 60, there is no warm place to be found.

What I have discovered, much to my intense delight, is that my Publix bakery makes kick-ass pizza dough. They sell it in bags, in the bakery section, with only the directive to let it sit out for an hour before you do anything with it.

Now THAT I can do. I have been an expert sitter for my whole life.

I created this recipe as an homage to the tostada pizza at California Pizza Kitchen (TwinFin, amirite?), where I first discovered that pizza didn't know what it was until it met salad. The CPK version is vegetarian, but because I'm often feeding devout carnivores, I add rotisserie chicken. All of the ingredients here are incredibly flexible; this is pizza, after all. I know a certain someone who'd go nuts for a version with Italian meats, provolone cheese, banana peppers, and a salad with red wine vinaigrette. A Cobb salad pizza has promise, too, or a Caesar version. Go nuts!

If there's Mexican food in the house, or anything with a Spanish accent, there's probably going to be K's Trashy Queso, too. I am fully, passionately devoted to Queso-Melt brand, after many years of research. (Most other brands, when combined with anything else, tend to separate. Shudder.) The fact that it's made from prepared melted cheese is what makes this trashy, but what makes it mine is the ratio—40% cheese to 60% everything else. That means lots and lots and lots of tomato and red onion and fresh jalapeño. You can stir in anything else you love, too, chorizo or beans or ground beef, but this is the trio I love. I use the jalapeño-flavored queso, because I always think hotter is better, but the regular variety works just as well for a milder flavor. Hot buckets of deliciousness, people.

queso


K's Trashy Queso
1 (10-ounce) container Queso-Melt jalapeño-flavored cheese dip
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, minced
1 red onion, diced
Tortilla chips

Stir together first 4 ingredients over medium heat until melted and bubbling. Serve with tortilla chips. Makes 1 serving. (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Nope, not sharing.) OK, Makes 5 servings.

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Mexican Salad Pizza
1 portion prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium black beans
½ cup jarred salsa
1 avocado
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 romaine heart, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
Lite ranch dressing, to taste
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 chicken breasts from prepared rotisserie chicken, chopped
½ cup frozen whole-kernel corn
Lime-flavored tortilla chips (optional)
Lime wedges

1. Preheat oven to 400. Stretch or roll out pizza dough onto a lightly greased baking sheet or pizza pan; bake 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mash beans and salsa in a medium bowl. Mash avocado in a small bowl, and stir in sour cream. Stir together romaine, tomatoes, and ranch dressing in a large bowl. Set aside.

3. Top baked pizza dough with cheese, and bake 5 more minutes. Spread with black bean mixture, top with chicken and corn, and bake 5 more minutes.

4. Spread avocado mixture over pizza, and top with reserved salad. Sprinkle with crushed tortilla chips and additional ranch dressing, if desired. Serve with lime wedges. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

3 comments

*great balls of fire.

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It strikes me that my usual approach to knowledge, i.e. learn just enough about any given subject to be dangerous, doesn't always serve me well. See, what we have here at onthewoodside.com is a food Web site with photographs. And though I'm learning more and more about food, what I know about Web sites and photographs could fill a thimble. (I say a thimble because it has the requisite holes in it so that the knowledge can drain out if I need brain space for eating goldfish crackers or studying any of the nation's real housewives.)

Google Analytics, which tracks my site traffic, such as it is, has faithfully reported to me over the past going-on-three years every time 0 to 22 of you lovely people stopped by to make sure I hadn't become a victim of kitchen fires or gravity. But then! I had a photo accepted at foodgawker, and my traffic jumped 1,600%.

OH, THE FAME.

So what I decided to do, you see, drunk with the presence of eyeballs, was bombard foodgawker with submissions over the next few days. Submission No. 1 was already in the bag. No. 2? BAM, accepted. No. 3? A+ GOLD STARS.



Nos. 4 and 5 ... rejected. And rejected again.

Recently, TwinFin, who is some big-name architect-type person, had his amazing house featured over at Apartment Therapy. And many of the commenters said very nice, complimentary things, and some of the commenters said very nice, critical things, and a few of the commenters said nasty things that derided what TwinFin and the SiL read and listen to and choose to have as a pet.

Those people are assholes; Peri is the second-best dog ever.

When I asked TwinFin about how he handled all the loud opinions, he said (and it helps if you know TwinFin a bit here, and how insanely and sometimes infuriatingly laid-back he is), "It just felt like design reviews at school to me!"

And the weird thing was? I wanted some of that. I'm a notoriously AWFUL recipient of criticism of any kind; I have a tendency to become puffed-up and bent out of shape to hide my psyche's mortal wound. (I'm a sensitive perfectionist; what a tremendously attractive combination!) Don't get me wrong—I knew I screwed stuff up all the time. I just didn't want anyone to notice or otherwise confirm what I knew about myself, which was that I was driving blindfolded down the highway of life.

BUT, before (I hope) this takes too pathetic a turn, I will say that once you get older, and you've fallen down in front of enough strangers and rolled your car into a few bumpers and had lots and lots of therapy, you sort of get accustomed to your failures and they make you laugh. Or at the very least learn something.



That first photo, the cookies one, was rejected for "underexposed/lighting issues," which? Touché, foodgawker. That foreground is way too dark. Honestly I'm not sure why I didn't notice it before. The second one had "food composition issues," which if I had to guess has something to do with the fact that it would have been improved by the presence of whole shrimp, and maybe something to do with the fact that I lopped off the left-hand side of the plate.

My bad.

But lookit me! I'm learning. And it didn't make me collapse into a heap and cry salty tears into my Nikon. The flip side? I have no idea why they chose the picture of the first shrimp-and-noodles dish; personally I don't love it. I think I've discovered a kind of criticism I can handle: helpful, instructive, and just a little arbitrary.

I won't be submitting these shots—I just don't like them, and I was underwhelmed by the recipe, to boot. To be fair, I'd just eaten 400 other pounds of Super Bowl snacks before these made their way out of the oven, and they were a smidge too labor-intensive, in my opinion, for the payoff. The original recipe suggested that, if time is of the essence, one can substitute canned chicken, but please—do not ever, ever do that. Canning is for vegetables. And fruits. And fish. Full stop.

They taste a little, LSis says, like balls of buffalo chicken dip. That sounds like an efficient package for something delicious, but a) a little buffalo chicken dip goes a long way, and b) it made the breading process seem inordinately time-consuming. Why not just make buffalo chicken dip? It was all a bit sad in the end, sort of like Fergie's halftime performance. So, you know, I only ate four.

But I'm super-dee-duper proud of that hot sauce swirl.

PROFESSIONAL!

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Buffalo Chicken Cheese Bites
2 chicken breasts from prepared rotisserie chicken, shredded
½ cup Frank's Red Hot sauce
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
All-purpose flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Breadcrumbs
Ranch dressing

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

2. Stir together first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined.

3. Roll mixture into balls. Dredge each ball in flour, dip in eggs, and roll in breadcrumbs. Place on prepared baking sheet.

4. Bake 25 minutes. Serve with ranch dressing. Makes about 24.

LSis served these with orzo the next day and reported that they were quite good! Now I have notions of buffalo chicken pasta salad rolling around in my brain ...

0 comments

*crowd pleaser.

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I know it's been awfully flush with Asian flavors around the Woodside lately, but I found myself this weekend confronted with feeding a crowd—seven adults, two almost adults, and one toddler—including two pescetarians.

Immediately I thought of two things: shrimp, and big bowl o' noodles.

There are some spaghetti-haters in the group, so Italian was out. And because so many Asian flavors (fish sauce, sesame oil, chili sauce) are best in small doses, I tend to have a bottomless supply of them at the ready.

I adapted this recipe from one at My Adventures in Food, because it's simple and easy and requires ingredients I can find at my wacky neighborhood grocer. It does not, however, carry pad Thai noodles (I substituted lo mein) nor, on this day, peeled and deveined shrimp (I did the dirty work myself, GOLD STARS). When I'm serving carnivores I use ground meat—chicken, turkey, or pork—which cuts the prep time down considerably. In this case I also cut each shrimp into about three pieces, the better to help things stretch a bit and feed a lot. I love the intensity of these flavors and the unexpectedly delicious, surprising weirdness of shrimp + eggs + peanuts. I doubled the recipe, but that's a lot for one pot to handle; I had to make two separate batches. Truth be told, I usually do—this one disappears fast, and the leftovers are divine. There are lots of ways to mix up the ingredients here—add more sriracha for heat, change up the meat, even leave out it out altogether—because it's basically a stir fry, but don't neglect the lime! It makes all the difference.

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Shrimp Pad Thai
8 ounces dried lo mein noodles
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
¾ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ cup vegetable oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon sriracha, plus more to taste
2 eggs
4 green onions, thinly sliced
10 oz fresh bean sprouts
¾ cup unsalted peanuts, finely chopped and divided
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

2. Mix fish sauce and next 3 ingredients in a bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

3. Heat a wok or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat; add 2 tablespoons oil. Sauté garlic and sriracha until golden, about 1 minute. (Stand back; sriracha may splatter.) Add reserved noodles, tossing to coat with oil.

4. Push noodles to one side of pan, and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Crack eggs into pan, and cook until slightly set. Stir into noodles, breaking up eggs with a spoon. Toss in shrimp, green onions, most of the bean sprouts, and ½ cup peanuts. Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until shrimp just turn pink.

5. Stir in reserved fish sauce mixture, tossing to coat. Sprinkle with cilantro, remaining ¼ cup peanuts, and remaining bean sprouts. Serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.

3 comments

*on baking. and expletives.

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I don't necessarily buy the notion that some people are cooks and some are bakers, full stop. Though the vast majority of chefs I see on TV go big-eyed and sputtering whenever someone says the word "dessert" at them, I've just never been able to accept that it's as black and white as all that.

Granted, cooking feels more like ... I dunno, behavioral psychology to me ("OOH! Let's throw this in there and see what happens!"), whereas baking is all physics ("GEEZ, there's math in these here hieroglyphics; what is wrong with you?").

OK, so I might be a little biased. But the anxiety gap between cooking and baking for me is somewhere between "oops!" and "G*DD*MM*T ALL TO H*LL," and I can't figure out why. All of that is belied by these pretty cookies, perfectly round and softly chocolatey and gooey with raspberry-cream cheese filling, but that has everything to do with Susan's recipe from Our Family Eats and absolutely nothing to do with me. I did everything in my power to screw these up.

Luckily, a plague of cabin fever had descended on LSis' house that required an immediate dose of park-going, so I was left unexpectedly alone during my tribulations. Which was serendipitous indeed, because there was so. much. swearing. I really don't want anyone to ever measure my blood pressure while I'm trying to bake.

My first problem tends to be anything in powder form—flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, various and sundry dried spices—which will inevitably end up all over the kitchen and my person. Outside of my propensity to chop onions into the floor, this messiness is rarely as much of a problem when I cook. And yet it is a guarantee that if I am using cocoa powder, 60% of it will end up in the bowl, 35% of it will find its way into the sink/counter/floor/pants/shoes, and I will manage to inhale the remaining 5%. (Does anyone else have this problem? No? Just me?)

It sounds nicer—chocolate-covered lungs—than it actually is.

I can't tell exactly where I went screechingly off track here, but somewhere around "mixture should be thick and slightly crumbly," mine just ... wasn't. The dough was shiny and sticky and (have I mentioned?) there was so. much. swearing.

Rolling the dough out and cutting circles just wasn't happening. The texture was all wrong and soaked with my salty tears. I finally decided to give the whole mess the finger and just plop tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet, irregular and lumpy.

It was rather disastrous.

And then? Look how they baked up. Like the baking fairies smiled, patted me on my sad, inept little head, and formed perfectly round cookies in the oven. They baked for the full eight minutes, even though the recipe said they'd be done in five, because ... well, because in my world, baking, like physics, is a lot more Murphy's Law than anything else.

If you take a look at Susan's cookies, you'll see that they're much darker than mine (maybe a difference in cocoa powders?) and cut into sweet, perfect heart shapes. The Woodside version is slightly more homespun.

And in the end? They were delicious. I fully appreciated every speck of the filling's two cups of powdered sugar, which diminished its cream cheese factor beautifully. (I inexplicably hate cheesecake, cream cheese frosting, and pretty much anything else that is a sugar-cream cheese hybrid of any kind.) The cookies were only very slightly chocolatey, which gave them an elegant subtlety that someone like me can only stumble upon accidentally. And they were a HUGE mess to eat, which is always the hallmark of a fantastic dessert. Every one of these disappeared. There might have been bowl-licking.

So many thanks to the tears, or the fairies, or the idiot-proof recipe. Or the swearing.

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Chocolate Raspberry Sandwich Cookies
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jelly

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

2. Stir together first 6 ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs and vegetable oil in a small bowl with a fork; add to flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer until all ingredients are well combined. (The dough MIGHT BE be thick and slightly crumbly, but ... maybe not.)

3. Drop level spoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets (about 12 cookies per baking sheet). Bake 7 to 8 minutes, remove from oven, and let cool.

4. Place cream cheese, butter, milk, and vanilla in a mixing bowl, and combine with an electric mixer mix. Add powdered sugar, ½ cup at a time, mixing between additions. Stir in jelly.

5. Divide raspberry filling evenly among 12 cookies, top with remaining 12 cookies, pressing down slightly. Makes 12 sandwiches.

2 comments

*blazing noodles.

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It's never all that cold in Alabama (despite my inability to procure any sort of appropriate winter wear); Facebook status updates from my North-Midwestern family serve as a constant reminder. They're all, "BURIED IN SNOW. SEND HELP."

Drama queens.

But last night it was sleeting, for a good 10 minutes at LEAST, and that sort of precipitation means three things in this fair state:

1. The vast majority of the citizenry will temporarily take leave of their ability to drive.
2. Schools will immediately shut down and fling their doors wide, sending all manner of small people scattering, unsupervised, into the streets where the terrible drivers are.
3. Local news anchors will report grocery store shortages of bread and milk, while the Winn-Dixie near my home will mostly run low on buy-one-get-one-free boxes of Cheez-Its and cases of beer.

People need provisions.

There used to be three grocery stores in my neighborhood, the better for choosing according to need: One is new, carrying the nice, clean, orderly items and the highest-quality meats/produce/organic foods; one has terrible produce and questionable meats, and stocks terrifically obscure "ethnic" foods but past-their-expiration-date dairy products; and one had shelves full of almost nothing you needed but was always, at any hour, completely empty, fantastic for when one required nothing more than a bottle of wine and a bag of goldfish crackers for dinner but not so great for business. (RIP, Bruno's.)

It's really more of a toss-up than it sounds; grocery option A is shiny and new but has minuscule aisles (the better to cram all that fancy stuff into) and is full of oblivious people and people who still write checks. Grocery option B, on the other hand, is the fastest route to possible stomach ailments but also has self-checkout and a stunning Asian foods selection.

I usually choose B. I'm tough.

I braved the frozen precipitation last night to procure the necessary items to make my very favorite spicy noodles with spicy shrimp dish, adapted from Evil Shenanigans. I don't know when I first tried this one, but I've made it several times since, and it always delivers. Shenanigans calls it "fancy enough for company, yet easy enough for a weeknight," and I've made it for all kinds of reasons—internationally visiting family, nights curled up in my holey socks when nothing but peanut noodles will do.

It looks like a long list of ingredients, but you're doubling up on most of them to use in the shrimp sauce and the noodle sauce. That's great, because it means you can make the noodles on their own any time you like—for vegetarians, with a different protein, or just because they're that good.

These are some aggressive flavors, which is why I love them so much, but you may need to back off on the sriracha or the curry paste; I like to make it just hot enough so that your face falls off. There's something wicked about NEEDING to have another bite just to take the edge off the bite you had before.

My sense is that the best recommendation you can give a recipe is that just looking at the photos conjures the sense memory of tasting it. This is some seriously mouthwatering, fire-breathing business. And the noodles are even better the next day.

Last night I chose grocery option B, which meant the fish counter was completely, inexplicably empty, like it'd been the victim of some bacterial outbreak, but there was a lone pack of peel-and-eat shrimp that didn't look toxic. They were very small, though (51/60), so this version leaned a little toward the noodley side (all the better). I go very heavy on the ginger and curry paste, because I love it. Do not be fooled into buying spaghetti for this recipe—it will still be tasty, but there's a lightness to the lo mein that's absolutely worth it, especially when you're talking about dunking them in peanut butter. The Chinese noodles are cheaper, too, so get them if you can.

Just as deliciously radioactive as it looks!

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Curry Shrimp with Spicy Peanut Lo Mein

1½ (10-ounce) packages dried lo mein noodles
2 cups fat-free vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
5 teaspoons Sriracha, divided
2 tablespoons red curry paste, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced and divided
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, divided
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 lime
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
24 small (51/60) shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Garnish: fresh cilantro leaves

1. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside.

2. Combine vegetable broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, peanut butter, 1 tablespoon sriracha, 1 tablespoon red curry paste, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon ginger, and ½ the chopped onion in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Squeeze in the juice from ½ a lime, and whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil to a large skillet over medium heat; add shrimp, and cook just until shrimp start to turn pink. (Shrimp will not be fully cooked.) Remove from pan, and set aside.

4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium heat, and sauté remaining 2 garlic cloves, remaining 1 tablespoon ginger, and remaining ½ chopped onion until softened and fragrant. Stir in coconut milk, fish sauce, remaining 2 teaspoons sriracha, and remaining 1 tablespoon red curry paste. Squeeze in the juice from the remaining ½ lime; stir in sugar, if desired. Mix well, reduce heat to low, and cook about 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.

5. Raise heat under saucepan to medium, and bring peanut sauce to a boil. Whisk cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl; whisk into peanut sauce until combined, and let thicken about 1 minute.

6. Meanwhile, toss shrimp into sauce in skillet; cook 30 seconds or until shrimp are just cooked and heated through, and remove from heat.

7. Toss noodles with peanut sauce, and divide among serving bowls. Top each with shrimp and sauce. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

1 comments

*super bowl.

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I'm finding, as I attempt to make meals that clean out the refrigerator and/or use ingredients I have on hand that are heading toward their death, that I'm extraordinarily inefficient at it. Two days ago, for example, when I was all, "I'm using up the collard greens!" I a) had to discard two separate browning half heads of iceberg and four (!) almost-finished bags of what used to be shredded lettuce but had become an unrecognizable science experiment, and b) I bought more ingredients to supplement the greens in the first place.

Math is hard.

Last night I had similarly noble intentions, and managed to find a perfectly good use for ... three eggs. Oops.

In my defense, I wanted to make something sort of one-pot and easy, something that would fill my belly but not sap my brain. My brain needed a break yesterday, time to reflect and go for a freezing run and laugh and curl up with the dog and hug other people's babies.

(Seriously, people, it's February in the Deep South and it's been gray for days. It's currently sleeting, and every third e-mail in my inbox is a screeching reminder from TurboTax. I'm going to need to be borrowing your babies.)

I just pulled this recipe out of the air, in an attempt to accomplish the aforementioned not-thinking. I'd use Napa cabbage if you can get it. (I couldn't.) My dear friend sriracha features prominently here; I'm forever indebted to JFro for making our introduction. If runny yolks are not your friend, you could easily stir fry eggs into the rice as it finishes cooking, but all that luscious richness helps emulsify these flavors into something they aren't on their own. I did not have just one serving.

And thanks to my inimitable coworker, M, who gifted me with the sake that made this meal, and my evening, just that much warmer. (She will wince at the presence of butter in the rice-making equation, but I've found it indispensible—it makes it impossible for those who tend to forget the rice is even cooking to end up with it glued to the bottom of the pan. Forgive me, father, for I have lazied.)

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Pork-and-Cabbage Rice Bowl with Fried Egg
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
Sriracha, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups basmati rice
1 pound ground pork
½ head green or Napa cabbage, shredded
3 to 4 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 eggs
Garnishes: sriracha, green onions

1. Whisk together first 7 ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

2. Bring butter, salt, and 4 cups water to a boil over high heat. Stir in rice; cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, add pork to a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat; sauté until browned. Stir in cabbage, and cook 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly wilted. Stir in reserved soy sauce mixture and green onions.

4. Whisk together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl. Add to skillet with pork, cabbage, and sauce, and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer until sauce thickens slightly.

5. In a small skillet, fry eggs until whites are cooked but yolks are still runny. Spoon rice and pork mixture into individual serving bowls; top each with a fried egg. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

And guess what? This happened to me yesterday.



I'm OBSESSED with foodgawker, so to me this is the equivalent of being asked to sit at the cool kids' table. I promise to well and truly embarrass myself.

1 comments

*something fishy.

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Last night, as I curled up on the couch with a full belly and a sleepy, satiated grin, I ruminated on this cooking business I've been getting into over the past three or four years—I never had any interest in cooking as a child, and my college culinary expertise consisted mainly of cooking a bag of frozen lima beans, pouring them into a bowl, and melting a pasteurized cheese slice on top in the microwave. (Don't knock it till you try it.) But then I got my very own kitchen, doll-sized though it was, and my very own paycheck, doll-sized though it was, and my very own license to stroll the grocery store and pick up whatever my little heart desired.

I'd never really listened to my little heart before that.

And today the whole exploit just makes me happy. I love to create something, either by walking in someone else's footsteps or charging wildly down my own path, and I don't know much that's better than having it turn out just as you'd secretly hoped—with every finger crossed and more fervently than you'd ever admit. (I'm a tremendously poor sport when it doesn't. That's the nature of high hopes; their counterpart is nauseating disappointment. Or maybe that's the nature of perfectionism. Ahem.)

I knew last night's dinner needed to be something more wholesome than a gooey mess of cheese and creamy, chickeny goodness. (Praise be to creamy goodness, amen.) There were collard greens in the refrigerator, so that's where this meal began, but the rest just fell together unusually organically. It was one of those rare moments when I knew just what flavors I wanted to taste together. In a way I blame the collards—that greens taste isn't for everyone, and there are a lot of people who swear by cooking them for days to get rid of the bitterness, but me? I know a thing or two about being bitter, and sometimes it just needs a little balance (garlic, spicy red pepper, vinegar, and sweet shallots) and the right partners.

In this case, that meant crispy roasted potatoes and meaty salmon burgers, a throwback to a childhood spent watching the toaster oven, counting down the seconds until my mother's salmon patties were ready. She made them with canned salmon and, because I was a spectacularly odd child, I loved the bones. She always told us that they were full of calcium and other healthy goodness. That way I could convince myself I wasn't just a kid who liked to eat fish bones.

No really, I was very, very weird.

But last night, as I whirred and mixed and assembled, I did marvel at how easy the whole endeavor is becoming with practice. Yes, there are also stunning failures, and I'm not reinventing haute cuisine, and I can't bake my way out of a cardboard box, but it's become something of a healthy addiction. I wondered, after I'd plated my dinner and set up my shots and devoured my plate, how people with lives do it.

Sure, I have my job and my pooper and my family and friends, but workdays end and dogs are kept occupied with backyards and food bowls. Particularly when they are easily distracted. It can't be easy when there are babies and lovers and in-laws in the mix.

So this is my hat tip to you, busy, life-having people. Guess what? You can make this one on a weeknight without breaking a sweat. I promise.

The salmon burger recipe is adapted from a Mark Bittman one, the potatoes are an old Cook's Illustrated masterpiece, and the collard greens are from the back of my brain in a place so dusty I don't remember their origin. But they are delicious. The only improvement I might have made? A dollop of sour cream on the salmon sounds about perfect to me. I just didn't think of it until J wanted to go to the bathroom at 1:43 this morning.

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Salmon Burgers
1½ pounds salmon fillets, skinned and cut into large pieces, divided
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon drained capers
½ cup breadcrumbs
Hot sauce, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
Lemon wedges

1. Process about ⅓ pound salmon with mustard in a food processor until it becomes a paste. Add shallots, capers, and remaining salmon, and pulse until mixture is combined with paste and chopped into small pieces (roughly ¼ inch).

2. In a medium bowl, stir together salmon mixture, breadcrumbs, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Form mixture into 4 large patties.

3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties 3 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Squeeze lemon wedges over patties just before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Crispy Roasted Potatoes
2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced (about ½ inch thick)
4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
5 tablespoons olive oil

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet on oven rack in the lowest position, and preheat oven to 450.

2. Place potatoes and 1 tablespoon kosher salt in stockpot with cold water to cover by 1 inch; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until edges are soft but centers are still undercooked. Drain.

3. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl, and add 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Mix well with a rubber spatula. Add 2 more tablespoons oil and remaining ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and toss until potatoes are coated with a starchy paste.

4. Remove the heated baking sheet from the oven, and drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Place potato slices on baking sheet in a single layer, and bake 10 minutes. Rotate pan, and bake 15 more minutes.

5. Remove baking sheet from oven, and, using tongs or a metal spatula, flip each potato slice. Bake 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking time. Makes 4 servings.

Easy, Don't-Take-All-Day Collard Greens
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper, or more to taste
1 bunch fresh collard greens, stems removed
Kosher salt, to taste
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add shallot, and sauté until soft. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, and cook 1 minute or until fragrant. Add collard greens, sprinkle with kosher salt, and pour over ¼ cup water. Cover and cook 15 minutes, or until leaves are wilted but still green. Stir in red wine vinegar, and serve. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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On a personal note? I'm grateful for many things this Groundhog Day. I hope you all know who you are. Today, I didn't see the shadow.

1 comments

*comforts of home.

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Yesterday started with a dead cockroach in my shower and ended with the world's most fitful sleep, with plenty of frustration, anxiety, and hard-blinking, slow-aching tiredness to fill the intervening hours.

In other words, I am old, and it was Monday.

Trying to decide what to have for dinner was a Goldilocks venture—too rich, too blah, too bland, too weird, too much like last night, too many ingredients, too few ingredients, too small, too big, too boring.

I was cranky.

But, boys and girls, do you remember what the word of the day (week, month, year) is on the Woodside?

That's right, TRASHY. I have a strong fondness for trashiness, of the creamy goodness and hearty homeyness sort (but not of the Ke$ha variety). I've been accused of being a "food snob" before, but I'm really not. I mostly suffer from a crippling lack of attention span that can sometimes cause food fatigue and requires me to try new things all the time, but I absolutely believe in the power of American tradition, the foods that are old faithfuls for a reason: Meat. Potatoes. Peanut-butter-and-chocolate ice cream.

I'd been lurking around a blog called Mogwai Soup for a while now, in part because Daniela, its Croatian author, seems so informed by her geography, and that bittersweet, far-from-home philosophy is all over her food—meals meant to conjure old memories and treasured tastes, please foreign and new (but beloved) palates, and generally create that sometimes-elusive feeling of "Home is where my kitchen is."

Feeding is believing.

I decided to adapt her Enchilada Lasagna, which I figured would mean plenty of yummy leftovers and just enough warmth and comfort to ease my Monday mind. (In a perfect world I would have made my friend JHB's insanely delicious chicken casserole, which is mind-mollifying to the max, but she stubbornly refuses to part with the recipe.)

I went the Ro*Tel route in place of the green chiles—in my world, spicy = comforting, and all ills can be cured with the addition of tomatoes. I lightened things up just a touch, too—a little more chicken (getting a nice brown crust on this is a must), a little less cheese—because while I'm sure the original recipe is wonderful as-is, I have a tendency to eat 12 servings at a time of almost anything, and I wanted to feel satisfied and overstuffed, not Violet Beauregarde. Those who know me well know that I am a charter member (and president) of the Anti-Wet Bread Alliance, so it was a bit of a stretch for me to make and eat something that requires dipping tortillas in water. But they melted into the finished product to create luscious pockets of earthy corn flavor with none of the afeared wheaty sponginess.

Still, keep your stratas over there, please.

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Enchilada Lasagna

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken cutlets, trimmed and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (10.5-ounce) can 99% fat-free cream of chicken soup
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of celery soup
6 ounces (about 1½ cups) low-fat sour cream
1 (10-ounce) can hot green-chile-and-habanero Ro*Tel, lightly drained
12 small corn tortillas
8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated*
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated*

1. Preheat oven to 425. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and cumin. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot, add chicken, and sauté until browned and cooked through.

2. Meanwhile, mix soups, sour cream, and Ro*Tel in a medium bowl until combined.

3. Spoon ½ cup soup mixture into bottom of a prepared 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Dip 4 tortillas in water, and layer over soup mixture. Top with one-third of the soup mixture, then half of the cooked chicken, and then one-third of the cheeses. Repeat with 4 more tortillas, one-third of the soup mixture, the remaining chicken, and one-third of the cheeses. Layer with the remaining 4 tortillas and then the remaining soup mixture; top with the remaining cheese.

4. Bake 15 minutes; broil 5 more minutes or until lasagna is bubbling and cheese is melted and golden brown. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

*Seriously? Do not buy pre-grated cheese. Yes, it is a pain to wash your cheese grater, but doing it yourself makes all the difference in terms of meltability. All the difference, I swear on J. Come back here and thank me later!

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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