Tuesday, April 27, 2010

One dish wonder.




There is beauty in an all-in-one dish weeknight dinner.  Making ONE thing is attractive to me, instead of assembling various side dishes, dressings, marinades, and salads to go with an entrée, as I am wont to do on any given night.  I don’t see it as a cop out because seriously, I can’t be a magician in the kitchen every night.  Sometimes I want to sit down to dinner less than an hour after I start making it.  Especially after my hellish daily commute home from the city. Seriously.

I am fully aware that I’m not blowing your mind with this sentiment – probably hundreds of cookbooks and magazines have devoted countless pages and recipes to this very idea, which has been embraced by pretty much anyone who is responsible for feeding themselves or others on a regular basis.  But – I haven’t yet posted on just this sort of dish in the now 4 months that I’ve been keeping this blog…and I think it’s about time!

I’ve actually been dabbling in a lot of Asian cooking lately (more on that as I delve into this), and am happy to say that I’ve built myself a nice pantry of the basic staples.  And there can be no better marriage of the perfect one dish meal, and Asian cuisine, than fried rice.  It contains every part of dinner one might be looking for, and when you make this dish yourself you can control the oil, sugar and salt content, which can be way overdone in its takeout brethren.

There is room in my heart for a zillion variations on this delectable Eastern go-to, but one of my very favorites is brimming with chicken and egg, and dotted with cashews, chilies, garlic, scallions and fragrant basil. It’s sweet and savory in a decidedly Thai sort of way, and really only takes about 40 minutes tops to throw together.  Absolutely crave worthy for minimal effort.


Chicken Cashew Fried Rice with Basil and Chilies
Adapted from Nest Magazine
Serves 2, but is easily doubled for 4

2 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 egg
a splash of milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 red chilies, sliced
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips *see below for suggestion
¼ cup salted cashews, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
5 scallions, trimmed, whites and greens thinly sliced
6 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Cook rice per package instructions.  While rice is cooking, heat a tiny splash of oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Whisk egg and milk together until just combined.  Cook in skillet until just done – do not scramble, but rather cook as a thin omelette. Cut into thin strips and set aside.

Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat.  Fry garlic until golden and fragrant.  Add chilies, chicken and cashews.  Stir fry until chicken is cooked through.

Add rice, sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce.  Cook over medium high heat stirring constantly to coat, until liquid is absorbed.  Once blended, add the scallions, basil and egg strips.  Cook one more minute and serve hot.

*I learned a great chicken cutting technique from a Cooks Illustrated recipe a while back, which works great with this fried rice.  As you’re slicing the chicken breast, slice with the grain as you normally would.  You’re aiming for ¼ inch slices here.  As you make the cut, flatten the slice of chicken so that it smashes against the cutting board with the back of your knife, as you pull the knife toward you.  This tenderizes each strip, helping them to cook faster and have a much more enjoyable texture!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Springtastic



Wow what a lovely spring weekend it’s been!  I was fortunate enough to dine here and here, watch this, listen to a lot of this, and submerge myself in one of these.  I had lots of free time to bake this, and this (despite all the homework I also had to deal with…).  So as you can imagine, at this point I am full and exhausted, but wishing that every weekend lasted three days because that would be seriously awesome.

Somewhere along the way this weekend I also made a fantastic springtime dip, full of darling green things like scallions, mint and peas, piquant feta, sassy garlic and creamy Greek yogurt!  It’s perfect served with warm pita or crostini.  It makes a ton and lasts a day or so in the fridge, so it can serve double duty when your spring cookout dance card is full.

Crushed Peas with Feta and Scallions
Barely adapted from Supper for a Song, by Tamasin Day-Lewis, via Epicurious

1 ½ cups organic peas (fresh or frozen, but NEVER canned)
2 to 4 tablespoons fruity olive oil
8 ounces feta, drained
8 ounces Greek yogurt
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced with a bit of sea salt
1 bunch of scallions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 large handful of mint leaves, shredded
juice of 1 lemon
coarse salt and black pepper

Cook peas briefly in boiling water until al dente, then drain very well, pat dry, and place in a large bowl.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and crush coarsely with a potato masher (if using frozen peas add oil one tablespoon at a time and cut back a bit if it’s looking too oily).

Mash feta and yogurt together in a shallow bowl.  While the peas are still hot, add the feta and toss to combine.  Make sure the texture is preserved – you’re not looking for uniform smoothness here.  Add minced garlic and mix.

Add scallions and 2 tablespoons of shredded mint.  Stir in the juice of half a lemon to start.  Season with pepper and a bit of salt (though be careful because feta is pretty salty).  Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice, mint, or olive oil as you see fit.
Serve with warm pita, crostini, whatever you like!

Keeps 2 days tightly covered in the fridge…may be even tastier the second day…

Monday, April 12, 2010

Flora and Fire



This past Sunday presented the opportunity to embrace two of my very favorite culinary practices for the first time this season: firing up the grill, and cooking with fresh herbs from the garden.  The birds were chirping.  The sun was shining.  We had finished planting poppies, dianthus and a beautiful bleeding heart plant (among a bajillon-jillion other things).  The propane tank had recently been filled.  And luckily the chives, both intentional and volunteer, were in abundance and beckoning me to put them to good use before someone else did.

Those lovely chives were the motivator for me to make one of my all time favorite summer side dishes – grilled sweet potatoes with cayenne and chives.  Sweet potatoes, in case you’ve never prepared them this way, do something magical on the grill – the heat and relative dryness create a texture that I’d cautiously describe as puffy, and a bit of well controlled char deepens their flavor into something borderline addictive.  And even though this recipe is best with the inclusion of butter (haha, you’re shocked, I’m sure), it is still pretty light and not wintery at all, as many sweet potato preparations can certainly be.

One note about this recipe – it’s mostly a “throw it together because you have the ingredients, season to taste, modify at will" kind of deal.  Maybe you don’t like cayenne, maybe you want to use scallions instead of chives, maybe you want to add a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche, maybe you’re vegan and want to use a binder* that’s dairy free…it’s basically grilled potatoes smashed up with vibrant fresh herbs and spices and a smidge of creamy goodness…perfection I think they call it.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Chives, Cayenne and Butter
by me

Serves 4-6

I’ve intentionally left the measurements here vague, because it’s really hard to screw this up, and your version of the above stated perfection may differ from mine…

4 good size sweet potatoes
a healthy splash of olive oil
1-2 teaspoons of cayenne red pepper
black pepper and sea salt
a nice bunch of chives, chopped
a good lob of butter – I used yogurt butter and it’s a lovely replacement for the real thing

Heat grill to medium low.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into ¼ inch slices (the long way, so that it’s harder for them to fall through the grill!) Place on a large plate and drizzle with olive oil.  Toss to coat.  Sprinkle with cayenne, sea salt and black pepper.  Toss again until evenly coated with spices.

Place sweet potatoes on the grill and cook for about 12-15 minutes, turning once at the halfway mark, until lightly charred and tender – definitely test them for doneness.  Place slices in a bowl and smash using the side of a spoon (not mash, you want some big pieces left) with butter and chives.

*I use the term ‘binder’ very loosely here.  You’re not looking for smooth uniform consistency, like a puree – think big chunks of sweet potato dotted with spices and chives and slicked with a bit of butter, sour cream, what have you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Not delicious at all actually!

The act of creating hollow easter eggs is definitely not delicious.  It's really gross actually, much to the delight of my nieces Jenna and Julia (10 and 7 years old, respectively).  I was off the hook this holiday as far as culinary responsibilities go, so in lieu of a tasty recipe I submit for you some photos (and videos at the previous links) of our crafty eggtastic adventure.  Hopefully I'll get this all posted before I succumb to my Cadbury miniegg and yard work induced stupor.  Happy Easter!