Lemon Scallion Garbanzos


Lemon Scallion Chickpeas (August 3, 2016)

Bright lemon juice, pops of pungent scallion, the bitter fruitiness of olive oil, and a heavy hand of Romano cheese raise garbanzos up where they belong. Irresistible when they’re first made, like all things, they improve with time and are best prepared a day ahead.

Marinated beans like these are traditionally enjoyed at room temperature. Have I mentioned how they’re perfect for summer picnics and BBQs? You’ll be a total hero to the gluten free vegetarians right off the bat and some sort of food Jesus to vegans if you substitute a tablespoonful of tahini for the cheese.

Now don’t go ruining this edible marvel with canned garbanzos. They’re easy enough to cook from dry, all the more so with a pressure cooker. The difference in texture and flavor is remarkable and completely worth the effort.

Recipe yields enough for three as a main course.

Lemon Scallion Garbanzos
2 cups dried garbanzos
juice of a medium lemon
five scallions, sliced thinly
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, preferably Greek or Californian
1 tsp Greek oregano, crushed finely
a handful of finely grated Romano cheese
salt to taste

If using a pressure cooker, follow your manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, soak dried garbanzos overnight in a quart of water in the refrigerator. Simmer for about two hours until tender. In both cases, be sure to salt the cooking water with one teaspoon of salt per quart of water.

Combine lemon juice, scallions, olive oil, and oregano in a bowl and set aside while the beans cook. When the beans are done, drain them and toss with marinade. Add cheese and add salt as needed.

Greek Salad


Greek Salad (August 1, 2016)

An authentic Greek Salad is a revel in summer flavors. Sweet, tart tomatoes, floral cucumbers, and piquant peppers countered by creamy feta and succulent olives. Lacking the adornment of dressing, it relies completely upon your ability to select the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. If you’re not already familiar with your local farmers market, consider this an opportunity to change that.

Speaking of markets, if you live near any significant population of Greeks, seek out their supermarket and get your feta and olives there. Supermarket specimens of each will do, but they lack a certain something. Here in Los Angeles, I stock my Greek pantry at Papa Cristo’s.

In lieu of dressing, have your favorite unfiltered olive oil and red wine vinegar at hand as well as a bit of salt. But use them only on what’s on your plate, and sparingly at that. The idea is to enjoy each bite as an individual celebration of the vegetable. It’s all very Spartan, I’m sure.

This recipe serves four as part of a larger spread, two if just accompanied by bread and wine.

Greek Salad
1 large, ripe tomato
3 Persian cucumbers
1 ripe bell pepper of any color
2 scallions
3 – 5 thick slices of sheep’s milk feta
8 – 12 brine cured Kalamata olives
1/2 tsp Greek oregano

Cut tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers into bite-sized chunks. Trim white parts off of scallions and cut lengthwise into quarters. Thinly slice the green part of the scallion into rings. Lay the majority of the cucumbers at the bottom of a wide bowl and scatter over the scallion greens. Cover with tomatoes, then peppers. Scatter remaining cucumbers around the outer edge and lay on the quartered scallion whites. Scatter olives at the center of the salad and then lay on the planks of feta. Sprinkle over the oregano and eat!

This salad can be made up to three hours ahead and held in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap. Wait to add the cheese, olives, and oregano until just before serving.

Cretan Potato Omelette


Potato Omelette (August 1, 2016)

Straight from Crete, this omelette is a mythic meld of crisp, caramelized potatoes and fluffy eggs with a fruity whiff of olive oil. You’ll having ‘em lining up a the gates of Olympus any time you make one.

The potatoes are fried using Joel Robuchon’s fantastical method. It works for full-sized batches of potatoes as well, but you need to stick with wax, not Russet, varieties.

I adore eggs like this at dinner with a nice salad (it’s something to do while you wait for the potatoes to cook!) and a spot of Côtes de Provence. It also has a great friend in Huy Fong sriracha sauce, though I’m sure my Hellenic ancestors roll in their graves when I write it.

Recipe yields lunch or dinner for two, breakfast for three.

Cretan Potato Omelette
1 medium red or white potato, scrubbed clean
sunflower oil for frying
5 eggs
2 tbsp half & half
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

This recipe requires an 8-inch cast iron pan, and there’s no getting around it. While there are many fine manufacturers out there, you won’t find any superior to Finex. A stainless steel skillet of the same size might do in a pinch, but you’ll need to fry the potatoes in something deeper.

Preheat oven to 350º.

Cut potato into 1/2-inch sticks and put into cold pan. Pour in just enough sunflower oil to cover* and place over medium-high heat. When potatoes begin to brown, about fifteen minutes after the oil starts to boil, gently stir with a wooden spoon or tongs, turning them over carefully. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown. Remove immediately to a heat-proof plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside.

Beat together remaining ingredients until fully combined.

Oh, so carefully, pour out the oil into a heat-proof bowl and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Spread the potatoes over the bottom of the pan and then pour over the eggs. Bake for 20 minutes on middle rack or until the center is just set (175º).

Potato Omelette (August 1, 2016)Immediately run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and turn the omelette out onto a warm plate. I prefer to serve it like this, but if the bottom tears or you simply like it otherwise, just re-invert on another plate.

* If this is more than half the height of your pan, use a deeper one to fry the potatoes to prevent dangerous boil overs.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing


Green Beans with Crunchy Garlic Dressing (July 27, 2016)

After Kewpie mayonnaise and the films of Studio Ghibli, my favorite thing to come out of Japan is S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping. It’s a blend of crisp-fried garlic and mild chilis in sesame oil meant as a condiment for ramen. Much like Old Bay Seasoning, there’s nothing it can’t improve

Here I use S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping to give classic French green bean salad a Japanese kick. Like the original, the keys to success are to cook the beans until tender, dress them while still warm, and enjoy at room temperature.

If you have the time, these are even better made a day ahead. Pop into the refrigerator as soon as they’re done but give them about thirty minutes on the counter before serving.

This recipe yields enough for four.

Green Bean Salad with Crunchy Garlic Dressing
1 lb green beans, trimmed
2 tbsp tahini
1 ts molasses
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 heaping tsp S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping*
1 tbsp sake
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp peanut oil
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Bring at least two quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Add the trimmed green beans and cover until water returns to the boil. Once boiling, cook the beans until tender but not soft. This will take as little as a minute for small beans and up to seven minutes for larger ones, so check often. Drain and rinse for a minute under cold water. Allow to stand in a colander while you prepare the dressing.

S&B Crunchy Garlic Topping (July 27, 2016)In a bowl large enough to toss the beans, add all of the remaining ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Whisk until smooth, then add the drained beans. Toss gently to coat all of the beans completely.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand on the counter for thirty minutes, tossing every ten minutes or so, before serving. Garnish with sesame seeds.

* Easily located at any Japanese grocery or on the interwebs. Yes, the brand matters. Yes, it’s full of MSG. No, MSG will not kill you.

Greek-Style Braised Beans


oatmeal_spoon

There’s nothing Grandma Kay didn’t braise in this ubiquitous punchy, herbal Greek tomato sauce. If the technique is new to you, think of it as stewing – low heat and flavorful liquid. In my own kitchen, as in Greece, I find the ultimate marriage to be with creamy white beans. Garbanzos are the path to maximum bean bliss, but lima and great northern won’t ruin Christmas.

Regardless of your bean choice, for the love of all that is good and right in this world, please use freshly cooked beans. I employ a Fagor pressure cooker to fulfill my leguminous whims. Canned beans hurt my feelings. Cooking them the old fashioned way is an afternoon you’re not getting back. But the pressure cooker gets you from bean-shaped rocks to dinner in under an hour, usually more like 30 minutes. You know that’s something you want in on.

Depending on your willpower, you can serve these beans in a variety of ways. Straight up with rice or toast. Chilled as a hearty summer salad. Or reheated and lightly mashed into a cast iron skillet with a couple of eggs cracked on top and some Cholula. Whatever’s clever.

This recipe yields enough for four as an entree.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 small onions, halved and sliced
a heavy pinch of cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp dried Greek oregano, finely ground
2 tbsp tomato paste
a glug of dry red wine
2 1/2 cups dried garbanzos (about five cooked), cooked to al dente with plenty of salt
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt & pepper

Cook the onions over medium low with olive oil and a heavy pinch of salt until golden and lightly caramelized. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns brick red.

Add cinnamon and oregano and cook for a minute, continuing to stir. Add wine and stir to loosen tomato paste, then add beans, diced tomatoes (and their juice!), and garlic powder. Stir well to incorporate. With lid on pot, raise heat to medium-high and stir every five minutes until bubbling vigorously.

Reduce heat to low and taste for salt and pepper. Amend as needed. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes with lid off, stirring about every five minutes, until sauce thickens and beans become creamily tender. The beans will take up salt quite quickly at this point, so taste for seasoning every time you stir.

Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini


Smokey Black Beans with Zucchini, Soy Glazed Acorn Squash, and rye toast.

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
What to do with all of this random veg in the fridge?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.

Soy Glazed Acorn Squash


oatmeal_spoon

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.

Tomato Pilaf Salad with Sautéed Mushrooms


Packed with bell peppers, feta cheese, and olives.

*ring ring*

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
Pilaf
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

Salad
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

Dressing
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

Mushrooms and Bell PeppersPrep 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.

Veggie Leftovers


A pot of black beans, ready to go in the pressure cooker.

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!

Smokey Garlic Cheese Puffs


Smokey Garlic Cheese Puffs

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.