Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tandoori Chicken

You've probably figured out that in many ways, we're not "typical American eaters." Usually our plates are piled with some mixture of vegetables and grains, eggs and cheese, in the form of an omelette or sandwich or stew or casserole. Meat shows up rarely on our menu - once every week or two, and usually more like a "garnish" than as the main part of our meal. We get all of our meat from Curtis', our small-town butcher who sources humanely-raised chicken, locally farmed pork and raises their own cows from start to finish on grass pastures. The meat is fantastic and, because it's not turned out cheaply, factory-style, it's of course more expensive than its oddly-colored, antibiotic-laden grocery store counterpart. Which makes sense - meat should be the most expensive part of a meal, because it "costs" the most, in terms of resources, to produce. As a small farmer, I could grow a little field of grain and feed my family for the winter with my harvest. Or I could grow a small field of grain and feed one cow. Meat is expensive to produce, so it should be expensive to buy. We take this as a hint that maybe we shouldn't be eating so much of it, either.

Now, don't misunderstand me here - I am not suggesting a vegan diet for everyone, or even a vegetarian diet. I love me some meat, and I literally don't think I could live without cottage cheese. But I am suggesting that everyone look at their diet as a hierarchy - fill it up mostly with foods that are resource-cheap like grains and beans and local veggies and fruit, and then add in a little bit of the resource-expensive stuff.

That being said, here's a meal that flies in the face of that philosophy, and follows a very traditional "meat and two sides" formula. Because sometimes it's cool to break the rules.



Tandoori Chicken with kale and couscous
Serves 4
By going heavier on the couscous and kale, using just a little bit of chicken on top, and maybe throwing in some lentils or roasted chickpeas, you could easily make this into a "cheap" meal. 
Make sure to pour any extra sauce from the chicken pan over the couscous. It's amazing. 

Sauce
1/4 tsp ginger
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp curry powder
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/2 tsp salt
sprinkle cinnamon
sprinkle cayenne pepper

4-6 bone-in chicken thighs, skins removed

1 bunch kale
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
lemon juice
olive oil

2 cups couscous

Yogurt Sauce
This would be nice with diced cucumber (like a tsatziki) or mint (like a raita). I had neither. Still great. 
1 cup plain yogurt
3 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
salt to taste


Whisk the sauce ingredients together, and rub them onto the chicken thighs, both sides.
Put the thighs in a baking dish, top with the leftover sauce, and bake at 400 for about 35 minutes, until 170 internally.
Take out and rest, covered with a dishtowel or tin foil.

In the meantime, cook the couscous - boil 3 cups of water, stir in couscous, cover and remove from heat. Let sit 5 minutes.

Saute kale and garlic in a little olive oil until tender, and then squeeze a little lemon juice over it.

Whisk yogurt sauce ingredients together.

Top couscous with chicken and extra pan juice, plop the kale on the side, and drizzle yogurt sauce over all. 

Miles really enjoyed this all mixed together - chopped kale and couscous, pieces of chicken and lots of yogurt sauce all squashed into a delightful little pile of awesome.
~Ashby

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Swirly Bread

Sometimes you just need a little comfort, you know? A tough day at work, a mean remark from a stranger, another freaking snowstorm - there are times when we all need a little something to boost us up a bit. As a mother, I find myself on the comforter end of things most of the time; bruised your face trying to climb over the gate? Run to Mama! Raisins spilled everywhere when you tried to throw them at the dog? Mama will fix it! Dad took away your maracas before you could hit him in the face with them? Aw, poor muffin, come see Mama. It's my job to make everything better and, if I'm being totally honest here, it's a job I relish. I'm a pretty typical, makes-feminists-cringe type of woman at heart - give me some boys to bake for and a sniffly toddler to cuddle, and my eyes glaze over in bliss.

But sometimes, even I need a little something to make me feel better, something that is guaranteed to make me happy just by existing. My list is ever-evolving, but always simple: slippers, daffodils, books by Tom Robbins, cheddar cheese, very hot showers, haircuts, broadway musical soundtracks. And this bread. Ah, this bread. I've been hunting for exactly this bread for a long time now - very soft and just sweet enough, dotted with juicy raisins and swirled with a thin line of cinnamon-sugar. It reminds me of the cinnamon-raisin bread my Naner used to buy. I'd spend weekends at her house, eating frozen cheese ravioli and watching old Gidget movies, and we'd start our mornings at her kitchen table, me with my raisin toast and Naner with a cup of coffee and half a grapefruit. This bread tastes just a little too good to feel like a "healthy" breakfast, and that's what I like about it. It's something I can toast and spread with butter and wrap in a napkin and tuck into my purse and then take a bite and feel, suddenly, better.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread
Makes 3 loaves

This is a huge recipe - it makes 3 full-sized loaves. I baked up two, and put the third in the freezer after shaping the loaf, before the second rise. When I'm ready for it, I'll take it out and let it thaw and rise before baking it up.



1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup warm water
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (or two packets)
3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup raisins
8 cups unbleached white flour

3 tablespoons milk
3/4 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon

- Scald the milk, then set aside to cool a bit
-Proof your yeast in the warm water for a few minutes.
-Add eggs, one at a time
-Stir in sugar, salt, milk and butter (it'll be lumpy and hideous - no stress)
-Fold in raisins
-Add flour 2 cups at a time to make a sticky-stiff dough - don't overmix her
-Oil and let rise until doubled, about an hour - hope to heck your bowl is big enough, because this baby can RISE!

-Roll your dough out on a floured countertop into a rectangle about 1/2" thick. Sprinkle it with the milk to moisten, and then spread the cinnamon and sugar all over it, reaching to about an inch from the edges.
-Roll it up tightly the long way ("hot dog, not hamburger" they used to say in art class)
-Slice the big log into 3 smaller ones, and tuck in the ends
-Put each log into an oiled bread pan (or freeze now, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil), cover and rise another hour or so
-Brush the top of each loaf with melted butter - I melted mine in the bowl I used for the cinnamon-sugar, and it made the top all pretty
-Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked.
-Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pans to finish cooling on a rack (if you cool it fully in the pan, it'll get tough)


Slice, toast, butter, bite, close eyes in bliss, feel infinitely better about everything.
Repeat.

~Ashby 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunny Day Pasta


In March sometimes, you need a little bit of brightness in your life. Often this time of year, we tend to find ourselves recycling the same sturdy cast of late-winter dinners over and over again, a seemingly endless parade of eggs and potatoes, kale soup and pot roasts. Coming home from work in the already near-darkness, dragging a long day behind us by the tail, the idea of facing a dinner as heavy as our eyelids is just not appetizing. Enter: sunny day pasta.

It’s quick – 15 minutes start to finish, including boiling the pasta.
It’s light, the perfect antidote to late-winter-belly.
It’s bright, with tender-crisp green beans and a hearty squeeze of lemon juice.
It’s DELICIOUS, which never hurts.

Basically, you should just make it. Tonight. And then, probably, tomorrow too.

Sunny Day Pasta

1 lb pasta
1 lb fresh or frozen green beans
1/3 cup lemon juice
½ cup freshly grated parmesan
olive oil
salt and pepper


Boil up your pasta
Meanwhile, steam green beans 3-4 minutes (5-7 if frozen) until just tender. Don’t over-do it!
Drain pasta.
Dump green beans on pasta, drizzle with olive oil, top with lemon juice and cheese, and toss. Serve immediately.

Note: if you’re going to save any, hold off on adding the lemon juice until just before serving – it ruins the pretty color of the green beans.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Creamed Spinach, a love story

I do not like the phrase "creamed spinach." It reminds me of the phrase "creamed corn," which for some reason reminds me of my Grammie's kitchen, which was not a pleasant place. Grammie was a good cook, I think. At least, that's how the stories go. I wouldn't know, because I was never allowed to eat anything that came out of her kitchen. Gram was a depression era mother of six with an addiction to coupons, so suffice to say things piled up, and lingered in that kitchen far, far longer than safety probably dictated. Most of my memories surrounding Grammie's fridge involve mold, yogurt cups containing substances that clearly were not yogurt, and a vague sense of impending doom.

So, based on these dubious associations, I managed to go a full twenty five years without once tasting creamed spinach. And now that I've finally tried it - lord, how I mourn all those empty years!

Doom-filled memories aside, it's actually kind of surprising that I'd never tried this stuff before. It has most of my favorite things - spinach! cream! butter! garlic! - all in one decadent, smooth place. The first time Jesse made it, I ate 2/3 of the pan before touching the rest of my meal. The second and third times Jesse made it, he didn't even get any. This was after I drove to the store specifically to buy frozen spinach - which, if you know me at all, you know is in and of itself indicitave of my lust for this stuff. I rarely buy frozen vegetables, and I hate making special trips just for one ingredient. But this week? Twice.

 Creamed Spinach
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
This is also really good cold, preferably eaten standing in front of the fridge, with your fingers.

~ 2 lbs spinach, chopped roughly
~ 1 small onion, finely chopped
~ 1 clove garlic, minced
~ 1 1/2 cup whole milk
~ 3 tablespoons butter
~ 3 tablespoons flour
~ worcestershire sauce
Steam spinach until just wilted, then squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Set aside.
Warm the milk gently in a little saucepan and keep it warm.
In a sauce pan or dutch oven, brown up the onion and garlic in the butter until nice and soft and sweet.
Whisk in the flour to make a roux.
Add warm milk and whisk smooth.
Add a dash of worcestershire, taste, and add more as needed for awesomeness (you want it subtle!)
Cook 3-5 minutes until a bit thicker.
Stir in spinach and salt and pepper to taste.

This is great as a side dish, but also beautiful over orzo or as a bed for a poached egg. Or, as I said, cold, from the fridge, with your fingers.

~Ashby

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beer Bread Grilled Cheese - or, my marriage as an easy lunch

There are only a few things better than grilled cheese.
Grilled cheese on beer bread is one of those things.

This sandwich reminds me of my marriage. Not because it's homey (although yes, it is), or because it's cheesy (though certainly it is that), but because it's better than expected.

Everybody knows all about grilled cheese. I'd go so far as to say that every child in America, as long as they attended public school, feels that they have a solid understanding of how a grilled cheese sandwich works. It's bread, surrounding cheese, fried up in butter. Nothing too exotic here. Every family has their own version, of course, and there are countless personalizations - grainy mustard, sliced tomato, ham, rye bread. But essentially, it's just a grilled cheese. Maybe you adore it because it brings back warm memories of rainy afternoons and tomato soup, or maybe you shudder at the sight of it because it reminds you of Irma, your elementary school cafeteria lady with the unfortunate eyebrows. Whatever the emotions attached to the grilled cheese, you get it. Everybody gets it. It's a grilled cheese sandwich.

Everybody knows all about marriage, too. We each have our own pre-set ideas about how a marriage works, about what it takes to make one last and about why so many don't. Some of us believe that marriage is something comfortable and warm. Some see it as a trap, the quickest way to forget how to breathe. We enter adulthood knowing what marriage is, like we know so many things. And usually (sadly?) we go to our graves knowing all the things we think we know, because it's easier than learning something new. And usually (sadly.) we go to our marriages already knowing what it will look like, because it's easier than noticing that it doesn't.

My marriage is a surprise, continually. I always expected that when I met my person, I would decide quickly that I wanted to be with him forever. Instead, there was no decision at all, no choice but to continue on together. I assumed that he would be a firecracker like me, someone to match me in volume and bring out my colors. Instead, he smolders quietly, casting me in a much prettier glow than I can manage on my own. I imagined that we would spend more time laughing than fighting, but that the fights would be fierce. Instead, we argue daily, sometimes hourly, and our laughter is the fiercest thing about us. For someone who knows everything, this marriage deal is a bit of a shocker.

As is this sandwich.

 Beer Bread Grilled Cheese
This sandwich is much, much more than the sum of its parts. The tangy bread is the perfect top note for a good sharp cheddar, and the prosciutto brings everything to a whole new level. Serve it with hot apple cider and a good dill pickle.

Beer Bread
From Honest Fare
This bread is amazing. I ate a quarter of the loaf standing at the counter when I was supposed to be doing the dishes. Also, it tastes like a yeast bread (thanks, beer) but cooks like a quick bread. Awesome.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 Tablespoons white sugar
  • One can or bottle of beer (cheaper is better, here, we think)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
~ Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a loaf pan
~Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Whisk together well.
~Pour in beer and mix with your hands until you have a stiff dough - then stop! Don't over mix her.
~Dump into the loaf pan and brush the top with melted butter.
~Bake for 35-45 minutes. Use the toothpick test


For sandwiches:
~Melt some butter in a skillet
~Between thick slices of beer bread, stack good sharp cheddar and a slice or two of prosciutto.
~Smear on some grainy mustard
 ~Grill until appropriately awesome

~Ashby

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Every Day Granola

I'm going to tell you a secret. Promise not to judge me?

I don't like breakfast food.

I know, I know. Healthiest meal of the day and all that. But come on - pancakes? Toast? Scrambled eggs? These are not things I want to start my whole day with. As a firm believer in the adage "you are what you eat," I simply don't want to start my day as a frozen waffle. Jesse, on the other hand, is a devoted breakfaster - he has been known to get up early (that alone spells insanity in my book) just to make himself a hearty breakfast. Before going running.

I know. Breakfast AND running. We know who the good one is in this marriage.

Personally, I don't like to eat when I first wake up. My eyes and my stomach always start out blearily, and it takes some time before I'm ready to take on daytime things, like food and other people and thinking. A benefit of this is that by the time I'm hungry, I've bypassed breakfast and headed right on into brunch or, as I prefer to call it on weekday mornings, pre-lunch. And since there are no standard pre-lunch foods, I can have anything I want. Which usually means baked goods. Or cheese.

Lately, though, I've felt a little weird about this. I spend a lot of time every evening packing a day's worth of food for Miles, making sure to include fruits and veggies and something extra-wholesome to start his morning. All this attention paid to his nutrition has started making me feel a little guilty about starting my own day with leftover pie. Maybe it's time for Mom to grow up and join the hordes of breakfast-eating adults.

So I decided on granola. It's simple, not too sweet, goes down way easier than a pancake (seriously, who likes those things?), and pairs well with my daily jar of yogurt and fruit. Also, it's stupidly easy to make. And cheap. Gotta love cheap.

Every Day Granola
Makes almost 2 quarts (6 cups)

I like to bake this granola almost to the point of burning - I wait until the edges of the oats get really brown and the oven starts smelling nutty before I pull it out. If you prefer your granola medium instead of well done, just take it out when it looks uniformly dry and golden.

Play with the ingredients - the proportions are the key to any granola recipe. I change this up pretty much every time I make it.

4 cups old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1 cup raw sliced almonds (or any nut)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I use unsweetened but sweetened is ok, too)
1/3 cup unsalted pepitas or other raw seed
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup apple butter (or pear butter, or just use another 1/4 cup honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt (less if you're not me)
1 cup dried fruit (I like raisins, chopped apricots, dried cherries, or a combination)

Preheat the oven to 350
Toss the oats, nuts, coconut, pepitas and salt in a bowl. Stir the wet ingredients in, making sure to coat everything pretty evenly. You'll have some clumps, but try not to have any really big ones, or things will cook weirdly.

Spread on a cookie sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, until nicely browned. Stir occasionally to make sure everything cooks evenly. Make sure to pull the granola at the edges of the pan into the center, since it'll cook quicker.

Remove pan and cool completely. Sprinkle dried fruit over the top of the granola, and pour into a big jar to store it on the counter.

Note - this also makes a really nice gift. All of Miles' teachers got a jar of granola and some apple butter for Christmas this year, and they said it was a nice change from all the sweets.
~Ashby

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fish Tacos


This is one of our frequent-flyer meals, especially in the summer when we can go out in the backyard and pluck fresh tomatoes and cilantro minutes before we eat. It's a summery-tasting meal, for sure, but it's easily pulled off in the winter, too, and brings a little taste of warmer weather into our winter kitchen.


We do these a little differently every time we make them - in the summer we chop fresh tomatoes and cucumbers as a topping, sometimes we skip the chipotle sauce or use fresh cilantro instead of the cilantro sauce. But we never, ever skip the sour cream. At least, I don't.

Chipotle Sauce
One little can of chipotle chiles (in adobo sauce)
1 cup sour cream
minced garlic
Cumin
Salt and pepper

Mash chipotle chiles with a fork. Mix all the ingredients to taste. Really, that's it.
This freezes really well, too. 

Cilantro Pesto
Fresh cilantro
Neutral oil (like canola)
Minced garlic
Salt
Lime juice

We freeze pesto in ice cube trays and then thaw it out as needed.

The Tacos
To make the tacos, simple soften some tortillas in the oven (or make your own, like we do. We like Mark Bittman's recipe from Kitchen Express - maybe someday Jesse will post it).  
Pan-fry some flaky white fish in olive oil with whatever seasoning you like (we use salt, pepper and some paprika. Cumin is nice, too).
Build your taco.

Seriously, that's it.

It's a fish taco, what'd you expect?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jammers

I am in love with a cookie. And also, with Dorie Greenspan. Oh my, she is adorable.

These guys are too, aren't they? I just want to pinch them. And then, you know, eat them.

Every since my infatuation with Dorie Greenspan began, I've been infatuated by her cookie recipes. I love her sables (they're my go-to weekday cookie) and her World Peace Cookies have earned their renown fairly. But when I saw her jammers being ooh'd about all over the interweb, my heart swelled three sizes, and I finally knew true love.

I found a version of the recipe by Tim from Lottie and Doof, and adjusted it a little bit to match my equipment and pantry. Dorie and Tim both used ring molds to make their jammers, and I loved the way it made the cookies uniform and really played up the sweet brown edges that I love in a sable. I however, do not have ring molds, and I also don't have the cash to drop on a set at the moment. So I improvised with a couple muffin tins, and was really, really pleased with the results. If you use muffin tins, expect to get between 25-30 cookies. If you use ring molds, you'll get 10-12 really big ones.

Jammers
adapted from Lottie and Doof, via Dorie Greenspan

Dough:
  • 1 cup butter,  room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or substitute 1 Tbsp lemon zest)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Streusel:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt (use the smaller amount if you're not using sea salt)
To make the cookies:

Cream butter until smooth, and then add in sugars and cream until silky.
Add egg yolks, vanilla (or zest) and salt, and mix.
Dump in all the flour. Then drape a dish towel over your mixer (to avoid a huge mess) and pulse your mixer on high a few times. Check occasionally - you want all the flour incorporated, but it won't be a uniform dough. It will be moist-looking and very crumbly. Dorie describes it as "feeling like play dough," which is perfect.

  • -Preheat your oven to 350. 
  • -Press dough into the bottom of each indent in your muffin tin - you want the dough to be about a 1/4 inch thick. 
  • -Refrigerate the whole tin for about 15 minutes - I skipped this step for one batch and they came out fine, but a little crisper. If you've got the time, chill them. If not, it's ok. 
  •  -Mix all your streusal ingredients together. I just use my fingers and pinch until it gets crumbly.
  • -Top each cookie with a teaspoon of jam (I used Strawberry Rhubarb from my first batch last summer) and a good amount of streusel. My first batch was lighter on the topping and Jesse liked those, but I preferred the ones with a heavy streusel layer.  
Bake for 14 minutes, and then let cool fully before popping the cookies out of the tin with a butter knife.


Enjoy!

~Ashby

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Green

Technically, we're only 16 days away from springtime. Realistically, this is Maine, so we're actually 16 years away from springtime.

At least, it feels that way. This is the time of year that really gets to me. Winter has been here for way too long now - I can feel it in the way my feet have trouble breathing, constantly smothered in wool socks, and the way I am suddenly craving spinach and tomatoes, and the way my skin is dry and so, so pale. Ok, the paleness is a year-round thing. But whatever. March is tough, because it feels like the snow and the cold and the heating bills SHOULD be over by now, but they're not. Not even close, really.

This time of year, I long for green. Grass and crocus leaves and chard and pea shoots. Even mold, at this point. Just give me green!

Since the outside world is not cooperating (the 3 feet of snow in my yard will attest to that), I decided to bring the green inside. I spent this afternoon repotting all of our indoor plants, trimming my scented geraniums, and planting some new friends that I picked up on a recent guilty-pleasure trip to our local plant nursery.

Aaahhhh, that's better.

~Ashby