It’s 1989 calling. They want their grilled chicken breast back. Something about how it’s the only way they know to make their salads exciting. How sad.
When I’m ravenous but still in the mood for something light, grain salads are what I crave, and once you get the hang of them, so will you. The sautéed mushrooms add an extra kick of meaty savor and deliver you from the tyranny of grilled chicken breast and greens.
To be super clear, a salad isn’t a recipe. It’s some stuff in a bowl that you call a salad. Greek flavors dominate here because that’s my comfort zone. Even when making it for the first time, bring this salad into your own world with veg and seasonings that strike your fancy. Heck, if I’d not just had a root canal the day before, I’d have insisted on some toasted walnuts for a nice, bitter crunch.
This yields enough for two dinner-sized portions.
Tomato Pilaf & Mushroom Salad
1 C medium-grain white rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 C water
1 red bell pepper
8-ish white or cremini mushrooms
1/2 C crumbled feta
1 small head of green leaf lettuce
as many Kalamata olives as you like
1/4 C red wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp oregano, finely ground
1/2 tsp sea salt
Prep lettuce to your liking and cut bell pepper to fine dice. Clean and slice mushrooms. Make dressing by whisking all ingredients together in a bowl until creamy.
To make the pilaf, heat a wide pan with a tight fitting lid over medium with olive oil. Stir constantly until rice turns golden brown and smells of warm nuts, about 15 minutes. (Anyone who’s ever made Rice-a-Roni will recognize this step.) If oil starts to smoke at any point, lower heat immediately. Add tomato paste and stir for two minutes, or until it turns a deep red. Add onions and stir for a couple more minutes to allow them to soften a bit. Add water, then salt and cinnamon. The water’s going to splatter and sputter, so be careful! Stir three full revolutions, cover, lower heat to just-above lowest setting, and set a timer for 20 minutes.
Do not, under any circumstances, stir this rice again. You will turn it into mush. Mushy rice is for old, toothless people. When the time is up, check the rice by gently inserting a fork to make a peep hole to the bottom of the pan. If all of the water is gone, you’re done. If not, give it five more minutes. When it’s done, remove the lid, wrap it in a clean kitchen towel, and put it back on the pan. It’ll look like Norma Desmond does Le Creuset, and you’ll thank me for it. As Grandma Kay taught me, the towel keeps the excess moisture from dripping back onto the rice and making it mushy. Because again, mushy rice is godawful.
While the rice cooks, sauté those mushrooms. If you need pointers on the procedure, the inimitable Alton Brown does almost as good a job at elucidating the procedure as my mother once did for me. In the event that you’re feeling like a total food whore, carry through his recipe in its entirety and use those mushrooms here. You will not be sorry. Hold the mushrooms in a large, heat-proof bowl as you go.
Gently fluff rice with a fork. Not a spoon, ladle, knife, paddle or other any other such nonsense, but a fork. A carving fork is best, but any fork will do in a pinch. First run the fork gently around the perimeter of the pan. Then, as though you were folding egg whites, move the fork gently (ever so gently!) from the perimeter to the middle, coming down into the rice as you move to the middle and lifting up from the center. Do this three times, then turn the rice into the bowl with your mushrooms.
To the bowl with the rice and mushrooms, add the bell pepper and feta. Stir gently, still with the fork!, to combine.
Assemble the salad by first laying down a bed of lettuce. Top it with rice mixture, spoon dressing over, and garnish with olives. A nice glass of rosé, and you’re laughing.
Earthy, sweet, and salty with a big wallop of umami. This technique works well with any winter squash but is best applied to acorn, delicata, and kabocha. I enjoy it as-is for a hearty side or puréed with a nice pork chop. Substitute peanut or sunflower oil to make it totally vegan.
This recipe yields enough for four.
Soy Glazed Acorn Squash
1 acorn squash
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp dark soy sauce, preferably Japanese
2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp water
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
additional salt to taste
Clean and peel squash. Cut into bite-sized pieces of a shape that appeals to you.
Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, oven medium heat with butter. When butter is melted, add all ingredients but extra salt and stir to coat squash in butter and sugar.
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently until squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir every five minutes, and add additional water to keep a light sauce in the bottom of the pan at all times. Taste throughout and add additional salt if needed.
Somewhere in your supermarket, usually adjacent the BBQ sauces, is a product called Wright’s Liquid Smoke. You need to own a bottle for nights when you want something hearty, meatless, and just a little trashy. It’s like having bacon without the pig. Plus it’s kosher, vegan, and gluten-free.
All of the veg you see in the photo below I had on hand and needed desperately to use before the creeping fuzz set in. The pressure cooker delivered tender beans from dry in 45-minutes. (They really are amazing, pressure cookers.) Freshly cooked beans are vastly superior in texture to their sad, canned sisters, and make what is otherwise an obvious attempt to use up aging produce into something just a little special.
Recipe yields enough for five as an entree.
Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions
half a carrot
2 large bell peppers
2 medium zucchini
1/4 cup water
large handfull Brussels sprouts
4 cups cooked black beans
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ichimi togarashi (or ground red pepper)
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup dry Madiera
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp Wright’s Liquid Smoke
Clean and cut onions, carrot, peppers, and zucchini to 1/4-inch dice. Trim and clean Brussels sprouts then cut into bite-sized pieces.
Heat a large (≥ 4 quart) skillet over medium with olive oil. Add onions, carrots, and peppers along with half of the salt and stir to coat with oil.
Cook for two minutes, stir, lower heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook for five minutes, stir, and cook for another five minutes with the cover on. At this point, the onions should be clear and the carrots soft. If not cook, put the cover back on for another five minutes.
Uncover and raise heat to medium-high. Cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until veg pick up a little brown. Add togarashi and stir for a minute. Add Madiera and cook for a minute, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the salt and remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.
Cover the pan again and cook until it begins to boil. Taste for salt and add more if required. Stir, lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook with cover on for another fifteen minutes or until beans are super tender.
Soy Glazed Acorn Squash, a couple slices of toast, and some good hard cider make it all seem positively civilized.
Like most home chefs working on a budget in a small space, I cannot help but roll my eyes when contestants on cooking shows melt down over leftovers of any kind. It’s a freakin’ “Chopped” round in my kitchen every night of the week. Home from work with an hour to walk the dog, make dinner, and set the table. And no PA to do the dishes when it’s all over.
(Do your best to keep the kitchen tidy as you go, kids. No one wants to confront the wreck of the Hesperus in the sink after dinner.)
I may plan my bakes days in advance, but the nightly meal rarely gets such forethought. Luckily, it’s dinner, not a solution to global warming. Stock your fridge, pantry, and condiment shelf with stuff you like, and it’s just a matter of grabbing what strikes your fancy and cooking it. Someday I’ll spend the time to outline what I think are essential pantry staples for any kitchen, but for now Michael Pollan’s axiom “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” sums it up well.
On account of the utter lack of planning, most dinners in my little kitchen at The Treehouse are what I call “limited edition.” Which is to say, having made them up of available ingredients, they’re unlikely to be repeated. They’re not blind stabs in the culinary dark, though. Rather, they draw on simple techniques that allow for infinite variation. This week’s inaugural roundup of the week’s Limited Edition Dinners includes two of foolproof techniques to turn veggies into dinner and my very favorite way to prepare squash and carrots.
Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini are a riff on succotash, which is just a veggie stew at heart. The key is to develop a good base of flavor by sweating and then lightly caramelizing the onions and aromatics when you start. Freshly cooked beans (“feh!” to canned) make it a bit special, tomatoes boost the umami factor, and the aroma of smoke brings everything together in the end. Diehard carnivores will swear they taste bacon, and who are you to tell them otherwise?
I paired the aforementioned veg stew with Soy Glazed Acorn Squash. If there’s a simpler, more delicious way to prepare squash, it involves a deal with the devil. When you get to feeling experimental, try this technique with carrots or parsnips. Throw in a heavy pinch of curry powder, and you’re down a whole new path. Or vary the sweetener and try maple syrup. And five spice. Oh, my. I need to try that right now…
Finally, pilaf! Being Greek, this is my default preparation for all stove-top grains (rice, barley, bulgur, farina). My Tomato Pilaf Salad with Sautéed Mushrooms, packed with red bell pepper, feta cheese, and olives is an easy intro into the wide, wild world of grain salads.
Now go eat something, you look thin!
My basic biscuits are the Platonic ideal of crisp exterior with a meltingly fluffy, wheat-perfumed interior. Each bite is its own pat of butter. I choose to believe it’s because I don’t use milk, which lets the butter really sing out. I also choose to believe that they’re “light” for the same reason. A big spoonful of blueberry jam or honey on top of one of these, and your day is made, whether or not you buy into my beliefs on the matter.
Biscuits are the gateway to all things crusted, flaky, and delicious. There’s a lot to be said on the science and technique of making them, but honestly, it’s best not to think about it too much. Use a scale to weight your ingredients, keep the butter and water cold, and you’re gonna be fine.
A food processor makes biscuits nearly-instant. But a pastry blender will work just as well. Everything’s the same, except you’re doing all of the work by hand. Fun!
This recipe yields nine generous biscuits. It also illustrates a kitchen ratio in the simplest terms possible.
300g a/p flour
15g baking powder
200g water, cold
100g unsalted butter, cold
Preheat oven to 450º and set a rack in the lowest position.
Weigh flour, baking powder, and salt into the work bowl of your food processor. Weigh butter onto a plate, cut into half-inch cubes, and return to fridge. Weigh water into a pre-chilled cup and return to fridge.
Pulse* dry ingredients together three times to combine. Those going the manual route will want to use a whisk or fork.
Add butter and pulse three more times. Use a fork to dredge the flour to check the size of the pieces of butter. If more than a couple are bigger than a peanut, pulse one more time.
If you’re using the pastry blender, the idea is that you press the blades into the butter to cut it up. Dust the blender with flour before you start and between each cut to keep the butter from sticking too much. Clear the blades with a fork inserted from the top when they get clogged. Stop when no more than a couple of pieces of butter are larger than a split pea.
Add the water all at once. In the food processor, pulse six to eight more times, or until the flour just begins to clump together like little bits of buckshot or roe. For the manual crowd, stir with a fork until the dough forms into a ragged clump, then push it into the side of the bowl with a large spoon until it holds together in a ball.
No matter how you mixed it, turn the dough out onto a clean tea towel. Keeping your hands on the underside of the towel, and thus away from direct contact with the dough, knead the dough into a smooth ball. Put otherwise, press the dough together from opposite directions until it stops cracking when you do that. Once smooth, form it into roughly 5-inch square, fold the towel around it, and stash it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Remove dough from fridge, lightly sprinkle a half teaspoon of flour on one side, turn it over, and repeat with another half teaspoon of flour. The dough is incredibly soft, so rolling lightly with a floured pin directly on the tea towel, get the square to about 1 1/4-inch thick. If you don’t have a rolling pin, don’t despair, just use your hands to press the dough. But work quickly so you don’t melt the butter!
Cut the dough in a tic-tac-toe pattern and immediately transfer to the parchment, maintaining the 3x3x3 arrangement with a half-inch between each biscuit. Pop into the oven and bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown on the top and deep brown on the bottom. For perfectionists, you want an internal temperature of 210º.
Cool for five minutes on a rack and devour. There’s no such thing as a biscuit that stores well, so you’ll just have to eat what you bake within the day. Poor you.
* For our purposes, a pulse is a press on the “pulse” button of your food processor that takes only and exact “one hippopotamus.”
** The biscuits in the recipe’s photo are made with rye flour. Like my 3-2-1 cookies and brownies, this recipe is built for experimentation. You can substitute up to thirty percent of the all-purpose flour for any other flour imaginable. Add up to a half cup of grated cheese or little seeds. Herbs and spices as you see fit. You could bake them every morning from now to eternity and still not exhaust the possibilities.
Planters Cheez Balls no longer wowing your guests? These little nibbles from heaven are lighter-than-air and devilishly good.
Smoked paprika is the essential flavor component in this recipe. Once hard to find, it’s now on the spice shelf at Trader Joe’s. Vegetarians who miss the smokiness of bacon will find it a welcomed addition to their kitchens.
The venerable French gougère, which is what these are, is a blank canvas of pâte à choux dough on which you can and should project your deepest savory desires. Slightly more effort is required than opening a bag, but yet another opportunity presents itself to learn an endlessly useful baking ratio. This recipe is a gateway to cream puffs, if that helps to influence your decision.
Piped with a 1/4-inch round tip, this recipe yields about 40 puffs.
Smokey Garlic Cheese Puffs
220g whole milk
110g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
110g a/p flour
4 large eggs
100g aged gouda, finely grated (about 3/4 cup)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
In a sauce pan of at least two quarts’ capacity over medium heat, stirring occasionally, bring milk, salt, and butter to a strong simmer. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, whisking vigorously to combine. Return to medium heat. Stirring constantly with a spoon or heat-safe silicon spatula, cook until the butter begins to seep from the mass. This will take about five minutes. Better to overcook than under in this case, but mind that the bottom doesn’t burn.
Remove pan from heat. If you have a stand mixer, dump the dough into the work bowl and set the mixer to “stir” with the whisk attachment. If fate has yet to bestow a stand mixer upon you, just pour into a bowl and stir every five minutes. Either way, allow the dough to cool to hot bath temperature before proceeding.
While you wait, grate cheese and measure out the spices. If you’re planning to pipe this with a pastry bag, the cheese must be grated finely so as to not clog the tip. Otherwise, any grate size you desire is fine by me.
Once the dough has cooled sufficiently, whisk in eggs one at a time. Do not add a new egg until the dough is smooth. It goes almost without saying that this is easier with a stand mixer. It also goes without saying that this is a good excuse to put that hunky neighbor to work if you don’t have a stand mixer.
Pour in cheese and spices and whisk to combine. The dough will keep in the fridge for at least three days at this point. When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 450º with racks set in the middle of the upper and lower thirds and proceed per below.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. The Fancy Piping Brigade should now squeeze out thumb-sized kisses. Everyone else can scoop generous teaspoons. Allow about an inch and a half between puffs. Smooth any dimples with a wet finger and immediately slip into the oven.
Bake seven minutes and then swap cookies sheets between racks, rotating 180º as you do so. Bake for another seven minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool completely on racks before storing or serving. If baking more than a day before serving, reheat on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350º to crisp back up.
Two final notes. First, you need to use a proper canvas or silicon piping bag as the dough is so viscous that it will burst all other options. Second, you should take this recipe and run with it! There are so many ways to vary it. Just make sure you always use a reasonably dry cheese. Nothing wetter than say, cheddar, or the gougères will be soggy.
My dark chocolate sauce is really just a loose ganache, but I’m told by my husband that’s a super unappetizing description. Nevertheless, there you are. With all of the milk and cream, this sauce truly deserves to be called velvety.
I love it on my Caramel Belgian Waffles, but I’m sure you’ll find a million uses for it without a single hint from me. But if I was going to give you a hint, it would involve a slice of warm bread pudding and a scoop of rum ice cream.
This really isn’t the sort of sauce that takes to reheating, but if you must, do it very gently over the lowest flame (stirring constantly!) until just smooth.
This recipe yields about a cup of sauce.
Dark Chocolate Sauce
113g semisweet chocolate chips (I’m partial to Ghiradelli 60% dark)
a heavy pinch of salt
6g cocoa powder, sifted
58g heavy cream
61g whole milk
14g unsalted butter
Into a medium, heat-proof bowl, weigh chocolate chips, salt, cocoa powder, and sugar.
In a small saucepan, heat cream and milk until barely simmering, stirring constantly. The sugars in the milk want to stick to the bottom of the pan, so a heat-proof silicon spatula is your best friend here.
Immediately pour the hot cream into the bowl and whisk for ten seconds. Allow to stand for a minute and then whisk until smooth. Add butter, rum, vanilla, and whisk to combine.
My friend Mikey brought this brilliant technique for dry caramelizing sugar to my attention last week. We decided to try it out last night at the Treehouse. With the joint suddenly smelling like an enchanted cookie forest, conversation turned to Liège waffles. For those who don’t eat them daily, Liège-style waffles are infused with this magic caramel produced by a fancy sugar
They’re sufficiently difficult that even I leave them to the professionals.
So here’s a riff on my favorite yeasted waffles (the yeast makes a more flavorful and smoothly textured waffle), using this fabulous new dry caramelized sugar. You can use brown sugar, too, and still have a great waffle. It just won’t be inspired. And really, don’t we all need a little inspiration with breakfast? Being for actual Belgian waffles this recipe is meant to be made in a Belgian (deep hole) waffle maker. For thinner waffle makers, I prefer to use my brown butter pancake recipe.
Anything more than whipped cream, and perhaps a drizzle of my dark chocolate sauce, is gilding the lily when it comes to topping these babies.
This recipe makes about a dozen 6-inch waffles.
Caramel Belgian Waffles
730g whole milk, warmed to body temperature
580g a/p flour
20 grates of nutmeg
7g instant yeast (1 packet)
3 eggs, separated
170g browned unsalted butter, cooled to no more than 100º
100g dry caramelized sugar or dark brown sugar
Prepare browned butter, as described in this cookie recipe that you should also be trying, an hour before you plan to mix the waffles.
Heat milk to about 100º, or the temperature you’d use for a baby’s bath, and set aside.
Weigh yeast into a small bowl and add 60g warmed milk. Stir to combine and set aside.
Combine flour and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a clean bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together yolks from separated eggs with 60g warm milk, sugar, salt, vanilla, and cooled browned butter. Whisk in the yeast mixture.
Add a third of the flour to the milk and egg mixture, then gently whisk until only pea-sized pockets of dry flour remain. Add half of the milk and gently whisk in until just incorporated. Add another third of the flour, mixing as before, then the rest of the milk, and finally the last of the flour. With a large spoon or rubber spatula, fold in the egg whites until barely combined. It’s okay if a few streaks of egg remain.
Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and aside for an hour. The yeast will cause the batter to double in size. This is good and normal!
About forty five minutes into the hour of rest you give the batter, get your waffle iron warming up. Carefully rub the inside of the iron with a clean paper towel and a little vegetable oil after the waffle iron cycles the first time. Always follow your manufacturer’s instructions when using your waffle iron!
Add enough batter to the waffle iron to come almost to the top of the peaks in the lower half, spread quickly to even, and close the iron. If you don’t have a waffle iron with a built-in sensor, you can tell they’re done when only a little bit of steam is coming out from the maker, usually about four minutes.
Waffles are best eaten immediately, and I promise, your guests will be happy to wait to get one fresh and hot from the waffle iron. Subdue the crowd with mimosas if they get rowdy.
I’m going to be honest, pancakes used bore me to tiny bits. It wasn’t until I started making them using the ratio from my Kitchen Grimoire, and playing with the recipe, that I landed on this version and came to love the pancake.
Of course they’re stellar with a pat of good salted butter (it’s Kerrygold or nothing) and some warm maple syrup (the smokey richness of the syrup from Sleeping Bear Farm in Michigan is superior). If you’re feeling different, mix it up with fresh or cooked fruit, honey, and/or whipped cream. Or go truly wild, lay a little bit of everything out, and let folks go all pancake bar. See also: prep things the night before and dominate Saturday breakfast with the kids. Bonus point for getting them to help you out with the dishes.
The real flavor driver in these pancakes is browned butter. Check out my Molasses Spice Bombs to get the technique if it’s not already in your repertoire.
This recipe yields about 16 1/4 cup pancakes.
Brown Butter Pancakes
165g a/p flour
6g baking powder
2g powdered ginger
10 grates of fresh nutmeg
88g unsalted butter, browned and cooled for fifteen minutes
Prepare browned butter, as described in this cookie recipe that you should also be trying, and set it aside to cool while you prep the other ingredients. If you’re making it the night before, gently warm to melted before adding to the milk.
Weigh flour, spices, and baking powder into the larger of two mixing bowls. Whisk to combine. Weigh salt and milk into a second bowl, crack in eggs, and whisk to combine well. While whisking, drizzle in the browned butter. Be sure to get all of those little brown bits in the butter. That there is flavor country!
Add the wet stuff to the dry stuff and fold together with a large spoon or rubber spatula until mostly combined. Stop mixing when there are still some pea-sized pockets of dry flour. It’s gonna be fine. Mix the batter any longer, and you’ll have something more suited to a sneaker sole than a breakfast plate.
Let the batter rest while you heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Non-stick pans will also do, but I wouldn’t try this in stainless steel for love nor money. Once the pan’s up to temperature, pour in a tablespoon of oil or butter, swirl around to coat, and then wipe out with a paper towel. Yes, wipe it out.
Now ladle in pancakes of your desired size. I like 1/4 cup pancakes, which spread to about 4-inches. Turn as soon as you see bubbles breaking and lightly set in the middle of the pancake, usually about a minute. Flip and cook for another minute. Wipe the pan with the lubed paper towel from earlier between batches.
If you’re making all at once to serve as a big stack, hold them in a 170º oven on a plate lined with a clean kitchen towel. These reheat better in the toaster oven than the microwave, if you’re into that kind of thing.