December 30, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

I prefer recipes with minimal steps. I'm more likely to make it again and again and who wants to a sink full of dirty dishes? This recipe is an exception to my-not-so strict rule. This soup calls for roasting the vegetables before cooking them in broth. I usually prefer to make all soups in my slow cooker, but the roasting imparts loads of flavors and it's worth doing on a Sunday when your team is definitely out of the playoffs.

The flavors of this soup seem Middle Eastern to me, but I've already proven that isn't something I know much about it. Still, the honey at the end makes the finished product worthy of company.

Ingredients & Tools
  • 2 heads of cauliflower
  • 1 large onion [I had 2 medium-sized ones; perhaps I should start measuring onions in cups]
  • 6 cups of liquid [I used 2 cups of homemade chicken stock and 4 cups of water]
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons curry powder
  • honey
  • olive oil
  • 2 baking sheets or roasting pans
  • large stock pot
  • immersion or traditional blended
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. The high temperature will produce excellent color and that brown color means flavor.

Chop the cauliflower and onion. It produces a lot. Split it evenly in two roasting pans or baking sheets. If you overcrowd one pan, the vegetables will steam instead of roast and you won't get the browning.

I used one pan and my dutch oven, since I needed the latter later in the recipe and it's one less thing to wash. Take the wins where you can.

Drizzle the vegetables liberally with olive oil and toss with your hands.

Roast for 30 minutes. Set a timer for 15 minutes and give everything a good toss at the half way mark.

Add the beautifully roasted vegetables to a large stock pot. 

Add the cayenne pepper, turmeric, curry, and salt. 

Mix and cook for 2-3 minutes over low heat to ensure all the cauliflower and onions have been seasoned.

Add the stock and the water. You could easily make this vegan by only using water or vegetable stock. If you use 100% stock, you may want to adjust the salt depending on the salt content of the stock.

Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over a low flame for 20 minutes. This lets the cauliflower soften and the liquid to absorb flavor.

Transfer the soup in small batches to a traditional blender or use an immersion blender right in the pot.

Serve this with a drizzle of honey and hope your team plays more consistently next year.

December 29, 2012

Braised Turkey

The first recipe in The Four Hour Chef is a lesson on braising. This recipe is a first for me. I've never braised before and it was easy. The results were fork-tender, delicious turkey and an impressive gravy.

Braising is just cooking what is usually tough cuts of meat in liquid. The liquid could be water-based with herbs and spices, but most recipes call for wine. I had some hearty red wine left over from the holidays and some homemade chicken stock, so I felt remarkably prepared to tackle my first braising task.

Several years ago, Mark Bittman wrote about braising an entire turkey for Thanksgiving. I stumbled upon the article in my fervent braising research. He goes all in: butchering the whole bird, using fresh herbs, separating white and dark meat during cooking. I bet it's great, but that was too big a task for my first effort. I've also already internalized an important idea from Ferriss' book: shrink the margin of error. Instead of an entire turkey for a high-stakes holiday, I give you turkey drumsticks on a snowy Saturday night.

Ingredients & Tools
  • 2 turkey drumsticks
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks [I added another while chopping]
  • 1 large onion [my equivalent was 1 tiny and 1 medium onion on this particular day]
  • 1 cup of wine
  • 2 cups of chicken stock or water
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt
  • pepper
  • canola oil
  • oven safe pot with lid

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and preheat a heavy pan with half an inch of canola oil. Rinse and dry the drumsticks. Season them liberally with salt and pepper.

The first way to introduce flavor in a braised dish is to brown the meat. Leave them untouched on one side for 5-7 minutes until the skin gets crispy and a beautiful browning has happened.

Practice some balancing skills by making sure all sides are browned. Remove the drumsticks and set aside.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery, and carrots. These three ingredients are the French holy trinity, culinarily referred to as mirepoix. I decided on a large chop because this is a slowly cooked dish. When I'm cooking over a long stretch of time, like in my CrockPot, a small dice becomes very mushy and seemingly disappears into the liquid.

Cook the onions and the celery together for about 5 minutes or until they begin to caramelize.

Create some room in the center of the pan and add the wine. Allow the alcohol to cook out, less than 5 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to deglaze. This just means scraping the caramelized meat and vegetable 'bits' [that's an industry term]. This is how the sauce becomes even tastier.

Add the carrots and the stock. My homemade stock produced 1 3/4 cups. Make sure there is enough liquid to cover the drumsticks halfway.

Combine the dried herbs and add them to the pot. If you have fresh herbs, use them. If you prefer a different combination, use them. Let this and all recipes be your guide, not a mandate.

Return the turkey back to the pot. I was short of the 2 cups of liquid, but this came up halfway, so I didn't add water.

Add the bay leaves, cover, and allow to braise in the oven for 90 minutes. Your turkey is done when a fork easily moves the meat away from the bone.

You will have this after an hour and a half. The gravy reduces beautifully. I added a touch more salt, but before you season it, taste the gravy. It reduces and concentrates in the oven.

We ate it with brown rice and loved the gravy. Loved!

December 28, 2012

Gifts for the Kitchen

I had never heard of Timothy Ferriss until Christmas morning. One of my gifts from my husband was Ferriss' book, The Four Hour Chef. I'm making my way through it quickly because it's well written and applies to so much more than getting good in the kitchen. Ferriss has created a successful business by tackling new things to mastery in very short time frames. He learned Japanese, Mandarin, German, and Spanish, won a gold medal in Chinese kickboxing, and is teaching me a new way to think about cooking. I love this gift.

I also have a new accessory from my wonderful friend, Nicole. We had a Secret Santa at work and the super supportive folks there have been reading the blog and, to my astonishment, trying the recipes! Nicole bought and jazzed up this apron. It's almost too pretty to dirty, but that's the point! Guess who had to quickly leave the room because the tears were coming.

To making messes in the kitchen in 2013!

December 19, 2012

Simple Roasted Chicken

Roasting a whole chicken intimidated me. The final product looked so impressive, I was convinced it was going to require culinary school-level skills. It doesn't. This is not just a simple dinner, but it is so economical and delicious--a combination that means I make this often. The whole chicken is far cheaper per pound than a package of chicken breasts or drumsticks. Everyone gets to have some of their favorite parts and, if you have the time, you can make your own stock too--also easy!

Roasting is baking, but with a savory food. Do not fear your oven. This verb was another culprit in making me think this recipe was out of reach. If you can successfully preheat and own a meat thermometer, you can do this.

You could dedicate a Ph.D. to researching roasted chicken recipes. The kinds of herbs you use are all just a matter of taste. The oven temperature and internal temperature of the chicken, I think, should be constant regardless of if you make a thyme and rosemary chicken or a beer-can chicken.

Ingredients & Tools

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 4-5 root vegetables
  • 4 tablespoons or 1/2 stick of cold unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • pepper
  • baker's twine
  • meat thermometer
  • roasting pan

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. This may seem high if you've roasted chickens before, but this hot oven produces excellent results: crisp skin, and moist meat, since the cooking time is reduced.

Use whatever root vegetables you're in the mood for. Carrots, parsnips, and potatoes all work. I was in a potato kind of mood and I'll be using the celery in a stock. Chop your vegetables and place in the bottom of your roasting pan. Season them with salt and pepper, but using olive oil, butter, or some other fat isn't necessary since the chicken will take care of that. This is the bed for your chicken.

This is my least favorite task: cleaning and handling raw meat. Do it quickly and move on with life. 

Season the inside of the chicken liberally with Kosher salt and pepper. In more involved recipes, you may be tying a bundle of herbs together, but the title of this post is simple roasted chicken and simple it will stay.

Cut the lemon in quarters and the head of garlic in half--no need to peel. Put both in the chicken. 

Cut the cold butter into thin pats. Use your fingers to gently separate the skin from the meat. Put the pats of butter under the skin. This is going to keep everything moist and flavor the chicken and the vegetables.

Rub the entire chicken [the outside now] with olive oil. I prefer this to butter on the skin because the milk solids in butter burn more easily.

Use some kitchen twine to tie the legs together. I have never attempted to truss a chicken. I will and I'll report back. In the meantime, if you haven't trussed either, just tie the legs together in a very simple knot and tuck the wings underneath so the tips don't burn. Leave the ends of the twine long enough to make removing it after cooking easy.

Roast until the dark meat reaches 165 degrees. This will vary depending on the size of the chicken and even by oven, but it will take roughly 75 minutes. I check the temperature after an hour and fifteen minutes exactly and judge how close to done it is at that time, but don't baste [that's what the butter's for!] or keeping opening the oven. That will just increase cooking time and that will increase the likelihood of a dry bird.

If your bird comes with the plastic pop-up timer, ignore it. As you can see it, it's in the breast and that cooks faster than the dark meat. When you're 75 minutes are up, place your meat thermometer in the leg. At 165, it's done. The breast meat won't be dry because of the butter. Life is good.

This will be your final product. Impress millions or just your family. We ate this the potatoes and spinach. 

The potatoes were amazing because of the garlic. If you need another reason to try this recipe, it's the potatoes. 

December 12, 2012

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

This is the kind of winter time comfort food that makes me ache for a snow day, endless couch time, and The West Wing episodes [pre-season 5]. Making this in the slow cooker allows the meat to be cut-with-a-spoon tender and all the flavors to infuse into the vegetables. I came home to the smell of this simmering after a long day at work and was probably too pleased with myself for prepping this the night before, when I would have preferred to watch [name of embarrassing show redacted to protect the integrity of this very serious blog].

Ingredients & Tools
  • 1 lbs. beef cubes
  • 5 carrots
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups of water
  • 4 teaspoons of salt
  • 3 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons of oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of basil
  • 1 teaspoon of rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • slow cooker

This is a hefty list of spices, but you can easily adjust this to your tastes. I like the combination of the Worcestershire sauce and the less traditional rosemary and paprika. You spice this your way. I see recipes as suggestions, not rules. Of course, that kind of thinking doesn't apply to baking, but it may be quite awhile before you see a cake recipe in these parts. I digress. 

Chop the meat into smaller pieces. This will make it easier to eat and create more surface area for your spices. Add the meat and spices to the stoneware of your slower cooker. It will look like a lot of seasoning, but many vegetables and liquid will be added and all that seasoning will be distributed.

Leave the meat at the bottom and layer the vegetables on top. Peel and chop the carrots. Chop the potatoes. I didn't peel them. I don't think it's necessary for a stew. Add your chopped onion. 

Add the can of crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire, and water and stir.

Cook on low for 12 hours and add the peas about 30 minutes before serving. When you come home from work near fainting because you ate your 'lunch' at 10:30 in the morning, this will be waiting for you.

December 10, 2012

Easy Fake Middle Eastern Chicken Salad

I think it's the turmeric and baba ganoush that makes this chicken dinner taste vaguely of Middle Eastern cuisine, but I know nothing of which I speak, hence the fake in the title.  The food that came out of my grandmother's kitchen was authentically Puerto Rican--empanadillas and pasteles--or stereotypically American--hot dogs and hamburgers.

There are spices here that I only discovered as an adult and I really love them. Allspice. What are you and why do you keep calling my name? Try this recipe and experiment with the amount of each of the spices. I once made this with so much turmeric, I served my husband a bright yellow dinner. Yes, he ate it!

  • 4-6 chicken thighs
  • pita bread
  • baba ganoush
  • a head of lettuce
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • olive oil

Combine all of the spices with the chicken in a large bowl. Add olive oil to coat; about 3-4 tablespoons. I used chicken thighs because I like the dark meat flavor and the low price. You could easily replace this with chicken breast. You could also cut this into bite-sized pieces when it's raw. I didn't do this because I have a thing about cutting raw meat. If you have no such hang-ups, you'll also have quicker cooking time.

Cook over medium low heat, turning once. This takes less than 10 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, clean and chop the lettuce and cucumber. If you've had a long day, have a glass of wine.

Once the chicken is done and in bite-sized pieces, it's time to assemble your pita. Now, I do this without taking advantage of the pocket. You could do this in the pocket and create a portable lunch, but I'm making more of a salad on a deliciously edible plate. So, spread the baba ganoush on the pita.

Add the greens.

Add the chicken and enjoy that wine!

December 9, 2012

Evernote for Menu Planning

I am a tech nerd. I read tech news, tech blogs, and watch a lot of tech videos. This isn't a screen addiction; I don't need to be constantly staring at my phone or checking e-mail. I like to learn about how apps and services can make me a more organized, together person. One such app is Evernote.

If you aren't already familiar with it, Evernote, at its simplest, is a note-taking system. You can access it on the web, on your mobile device, or on their software. I use all three platforms, thank you very much. It makes menu planning very simple for me.  Your notes can be text, pictures, or sound.  Check out this vlog [video blog] for the Evernote basics.

I use three notes constantly: menu database, this week's menu, and next week's menu. These are the titles of my notes--you can call your notes anything you like.

In my menu database note, I keep a living list of all the recipes I like and can make well. Whenever I'm stumped about what to make, I refer to this list. As I experiment with new recipes and find ones I like, I add to the list. I keep the hyperlinks of the websites where I find the recipes for future reference.

This week's menu is a well-named note: here is everything I'm making this week. When my brain gets clogged with the happenings of day to day life, it's a reminder. Evernote on each platform has great sharing resources, so I can easily e-mail my husband our week's menu.  He's very smart; he always says it looks delicious.

If I'm standing in line somewhere or if some culinary inspiration hits at a random time of day, I go to the next week's menu note on my phone and add my idea. This also serves as my shopping list towards the end of the week.

Evernote allows the use of tags.  All three of these notes are tagged menu. I also have menus for specific holidays, like Christmas. Cooking on Christmas day requires a different level of organization, so I break down the menu into chunks of time. This way, everything is ready at the same time. I know when in the morning to start each of the recipes.

The Evernote clipper is an excellent tool for organizing recipes and it deserves its own post--coming soon.

December 8, 2012

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

There will be a lot of  slow cooker recipes on this blog. I've had one my entire adult life because they're so easy to use. My first one was a very basic CrockPot brand slow cooker. I bought it with a coupon during some sale nearly a decade ago and paid about $14 for it. Another generous bridal shower gift replaced it, though.

My fancy 6 quart CrockPot with digital timer
Photo from
This is a very simple way to cook. The ingredients go in, the CrockPot works its slow cooking magic, and delicious food comes out without any stirring, watching, or fussiness. I use it most on weekdays, so I can turn it on in the morning and come home from work with dinner waiting for me.  This CrockPot automatically switches to warm after it's reached the total cooking time, but things seldom burn in a slow cooker. This is also a kitchen must-have in the summer, so you can bake or roast without turning the oven on.

Soups and stews are probably the ideal recipes for a slow cooker since their flavors develop best over time. This recipes makes a ton of soup, so my freezer is getting nicely stocked.

Ingredients & Tools
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 apple
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 10 cups of water
  • 4 teaspoons of salt
  • 3 teaspoons of allspice
  • 2 teaspoons of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
  • 6 quart [or larger] slow cooker
  • immersion or standard blended

Do you want another reason to try this recipe? It's cheap! The spices eliminate the need for vegetable or chicken stock. This also accidentally makes it a vegan soup. I think soup recipes in the slow cooker rarely need a stock if it's spiced well. Depending on your taste and tolerance for spice, adjust the cayenne pepper. Just one teaspoon, even in this large quantity, was enough for me with the other spices. I love the garlic in this soup, even though the cloves didn't make their way into the picture. Don't forget them!

Peel the carrots and the sweet potatoes. You don't need to peel the apples. Chop everything up and put in the slow cooker's stoneware. Try to get similar sizes, but you don't need to be perfect. You never need to be perfect in the kitchen. Add the water and the spices and stir.

Set your slow cooker on low and cook for 8-10 hours.

I prepared everything the night before and set it to cook before I left for work. This cooked for nearly 11 hours and I immediately blended it. Be very careful since the soup is very hot and splatters will burn. I blend from the bottom, stirring as if it were spoon. After about 3 minutes, it was a great consistency. If you use a traditional blender, very carefully blend the soup in small batches and move to another pot. 

The apples and carrots add a bit of sweetness to balance the flavors, though I wish these carrots hadn't been so wimpy. I may try one more apple next time. This is a fiber-rich, healthy soup.

My husband and I ate this with our wonder bread and had it for lunch for two days. The freezer now has some spicy sweet potato soup waiting for some future cold night.

December 5, 2012

Wonder Bread: Bakery Quality No-Knead Bread in 5 Minutes

Baking was not a big part of my abuela's repertoire in the kitchen. She was a master at Puerto Rican cooking and, where her favorite granddaughter was concerned, she was a short order cook--making whatever I fancied when I came home from school. If it involved pan, it was always on two bright white pieces of Wonder bread. I loved it then, but I have never bought it as an adult and it must be nearly 15 years since I've had it. Now, I make this incredibly simple, but delicious bread that I hope you try too.

The artisan, no knead bread phenomenon is a few years old, but it was new to me about two months ago. After reading about the recipe in the archives of one of my favorite home cook blogs [now you know what I do on Sunday mornings], I had to search out what many internet folks referred to as the original source: Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery. Mark Bittman interviewed him about this recipe for the New York Times in 2006 and the response was so positive, Lahey wrote a book in 2009: My Bread: The Revolutionary No Work, No Knead Method. I will need to buy this soon. I'm a visual learner, so I watched the video. Many times. It looked too easy to be possible. How could such basic ingredients and nearly no work on my part, produce something that looked so crunchy on the outside, moist inside, and visually perfect? That looked like wonder bread!

I have made this a few times with all white flour, all whole wheat, and a few different combinations. This recipe is the white to whole wheat flour ratio I like the best. Try it and experiment. You cannot mess this up.*

 Ingredients & Tools
  • 2 cups all purpose white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 5/8 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • cornmeal for dusting
  • very large mixing bowl
  • cast iron pot with an oven-safe lid
  • plastic wrap

Mix all the dry ingredients together and add the water. At first, it will seem like there isn't enough water. Don't panic and don't add more water. Please trust me. I've already made this mistake for you.* Just keep gently turning the flour and it will come together. It will be very sticky.

You'll get a sticky ball of dough after about 90 seconds of stirring and you're done. I found it hard to believe that I didn't need to flour the counter and spend 15 minutes massaging dough, but this is why I call this the new wonder bread.

Put a piece a plastic wrap over the bowl and allow it to rise for 18 hours. I've let it rise for nearly 24 hours with great results. I made this dough at 9PM in about 8 minutes. When I'm not taking pictures of every step, this is less than 5 minutes of kitchen time.

Nineteen hours and a full night of sleep and day at work later, the dough has more than doubled in size, has gotten even stickier, and is dotted with holes--evidence of fermentation.

When I made this with all white flour, the rise was much higher; more than double than this combination of flour. Be sure to use your largest bowl.

Generously cover your hands and work surface with cornmeal. The gluten is sticky, so be prepared. Turn the bowl on its side and use your fingers to move the dough onto your counter. 

Fold the dough over four times. Think of it as having four sides and fold each side over on itself. Flip the dough over so the seam side is on the counter and the smooth side is up. Add some more cornmeal to the top and cover with plastic wrap. Every recipe I've read calls to cover the dough with a kitchen towel. I really hated this method. There just didn't seem to be enough flour or cornmeal that wouldn't create a terribly sticky mess. Some say the towel helps to get the dough into the dutch oven, but the plastic wrap works better for me. Experiment and see what you prefer.

After you've covered the dough, let it rise on the counter for 1-2 hours. It will about double in size.

My Jewish mama and auntie gifted me this beautiful and useful Le Creuset 5.5 quart dutch oven for my bridal shower this past spring. It is the most used tool in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen. The oval shape is so much more cook-friendly on the stove top and it's a workhorse. Now, you don't need a fancy dutch oven for this recipe. Any oven-safe pot with a lid will work, but it will need to withstand 500 degrees.

This is another place where I vary from the Lahey recipe. I bake the bread at 475 degrees. I've heard that ovens and their digital read outs are not always consistent. I was happier with the results at 475 degrees, so preheat your oven and your dutch oven. The dutch oven does not need to be buttered or oiled in any way. The bread won't stick. It's just another wonder of this bread.

This is probably the most labor-intensive part of the recipe. Once the oven and the dutch oven are preheated, remove the dutch oven and put it on your stove top. If you watch the video of Lahey and Bittman, he just opens the oven, slides the rack out, and drops the dough in. I couldn't do this in a safe way.  The oven is super hot, the dough is super sticky, and it just felt like an accident waiting to happen. I'm trying to prevent tears in the kitchen, here!

So, remove the dutch oven and get your nimble hands ready.  Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and very quickly slide your hand under it. The goal is to have the smooth side of the dough on the bottom of the dutch oven and the seam side up. This way, the seams crack while cooking and create pretty marks in the bread. I have not mastered this at all. In fact, I've been grossly unsuccessful in flipping the dough a few times and it doesn't make any difference in the baking. Honestly, I think the bread is pretty to look at every time and even better to eat.

Put the lid back on the dutch oven, put that back into your conventional oven, and bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes. This is when the crust becomes even crunchier. You will be amazed when you take the lid off.

After 45 minutes, you'll have this:

Arm your loved ones with soup or some extra saucy dish when you make this bread.