Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Simple chicken soup for one.

Soup is one of my favorite things about chilly weather. I love eating it but I also love to make it... there's something about stirring a big pot of soup that feels relaxing.

However, sometimes one's schedule does not allow time for simmering a big pot of soup. Or, if you're like us, between work and school schedules you are left to make dinner for one from time to time. These two issues inspired this very simple soup. I hope you'll carve out 20 minutes or so to make yourself a cup for a hearty lunch or a comforting dinner when you only need to cook for one. Since you're just cooking for yourself, tailor it to your tastes; leave out the celery if you hate it, add pasta if you prefer it to rice, throw in some parsley for freshness... the possibilities are endless.

Chicken Soup for One

Note: I used leftover brown rice, but you could also use leftover pasta or throw in a handful of orzo once the vegetables are tender and cook according to the package directions.

Serves 1

1 14.5 oz can of low-sodium chicken broth
1 carrot, diced small
1 small stalk of celery, diced small
1/2 cup cooked rice (or pasta, see above)
1/2 cup cooked chicken (leftover from roast chicken, from a rotisserie chicken, whatever you have)

1. Put the chicken broth in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the carrot and celery and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the rice and the chicken to the broth mixture and cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Call it what you will.

This week, I had a strong desire to make something and candy seemed both frivolous and quick enough to hit the spot. The candy I chose was honeycomb (aka hokey pokey, sea foam, sponge toffee, sea foam, etc.), which has an amazingly light texture but a wonderful burnt sugar flavor. Not too burnt-- we're talking about caramel here.

Honeycomb is not only fun to eat, but fun to make, as well. Simply boil a sugar mixture, whisk in baking soda (which will cause the mixture to puff up considerably), pour onto a pan lined with parchment, and smash into shards once it has cooled. Fantastic.

If you use this recipe as stress relief, I certainly won't judge you.

The reviewers on the Food Network site, where I found this recipe after watching Nigella Lawson prepare this confection on her show, tell me that this stuff is fantastic in ice cream as well as dipped in chocolate. I have yet to try either of these variations, but both sound excellent. Finally, I must confess that the ingredients list I followed came from someone reviewing the recipe, rather than Nigella herself. This included the addition of brown sugar and swapping dark corn syrup for light.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson

Note: On the website, many people stated their honeycomb never set up, which appears to be due to a couple of factors. First, many warn not to make this candy on a very humid day, as much like meringues the mixture will remain tacky if too much moisture is present. Second, although Nigella eschews a thermometer and gives a basic suggestion to cook the candy for aboutfor 3 minutes we are making candy here and if it doesn't get past the soft crack stage it will never get really hard. In light of this, I heated mine to 290-295 degrees and it set up perfectly.

Makes one standard baking sheet of candy

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
8 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1. Place the sugars and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until combined. Many argue against stirring a sugar mixture as it cooks, but I always stir mine until melted and have never had a problem. Once it's melted and thoroughly combined, stop stirring but continue to cook, swirling gently as needed to evenly distribute the heat.

2. Check the temperature of the mixture often as it boils. You'll see the color change to a deeper golden color but make sure it gets to about 290-295 degrees. Once it reaches that range, remove the pan from the heat. Working quickly, add the baking soda and whisk the mixture until the soda is evenly distributed. Pour the hot sugar mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

3. Allow the sugar mixture to cool completely; mine took about 20 minutes. Once cool, pick the whole thing up and smash it against the baking sheet to break into shards. I tried using my knife to make the breaking more precise but whacking the candy against the baking sheet was an oddly superior method. To store, place the candy in an airtight container.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Birthday brownies.

One of the grad students had a birthday last week. I try to make everyone something for their birthday and, although I want to please their tastes, I also like having the freedom to select something special that I think they'll really enjoy. When I think of this particular student, I think of chocolate, and when I asked if she had preferences beyond that she responded that she likes most everything.

Given the freedom to make anything chocolate I chose brownies because I hadn't made any in a while and I think they are a baked good that can really showcase a fine-quality chocolate. However, this also means that it really shows when you chocolate is iffy, so I really recommend buying the best quality chocolate you can afford.

I love brownies that a fudgy and have nuts but also chocolate chunks in them, but if you'd rather not you can certainly go without the chips or the walnuts. There's something about bitter walnuts, the snap of the chocolate chips, and the soft interior that are a great combination, however. And delicious with coffee, like most baked goods. Speaking of coffee, if you aren't a coffee lover (like my husband) I assure you that you really cannot taste the coffee in the finished product. It just serves to bring out the flavor of the chocolate, like salt does in most everything.

Chocolate brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, May 1998

Note: The walnuts are completely optional, but in fudgy brownies like this I like a bit of texture. Further, if you make them the day before you'll get a nice contrast between the soft interior, walnuts, and solid chocolate chips. I'll understand if you cannot restrain yourself, however.

Yields 1 9 x 13-inch pan.

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), plus more for pan
8 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate
5 large eggs
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour (so, sift first, then measure the sifted flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line with parchment, leaving an over hang (you'll use this later to extract the brownies) set aside.

2. In a small, heat-proof bowl, combine the chocolate and the butter. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate mixture has melted, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Beat the eggs, sugar, and espresso powder in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at high speed for 10 minutes. It will look significantly lighter. Reduce the speed to low, and add the chocolate mixture as well as the vanilla. Beat until combined. Add the flour and salt slowly, beating just until incorporated then fold in chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake until edges are dry but you still want the center to be a bit soft. It will look dry on top, but if you inserted a cake tester it would not come out clean. This takes about 35 minutes, but check often to be sure you end up with a fudgie brownie. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. After 30 minutes, lift the sheet of brownies out using the parchment overhang and cut into squares. The original recipe suggested 3-inch squares (12 brownies), which would be deliciously indulgent, but I was taking mine to a party so I cut significantly smaller squares yielding about 30 brownies.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A winning chicken dinner.

I love roasting a chicken for dinner. Yes, it is usually a weekend activity, but unless you have a small army to feed one roast chicken will provide several meals in the coming week. Jared and I will usually save the breasts and then slice some and shred the rest to be used in sandwiches, quesadillas, pasta, salads.... You can really stretch one bird with a little creative thinking.

I've been roasting chickens about as long as I have been cooking, thanks in no small part to Ina Garten's enthusiasm for this simple preparation. In that time, I have tried many recipes and really it is hard to go wrong if you watch the temperature at the end and follow the directions. When I found this recipe over the winter, however, it quickly became my very favorite take on this classic dish.

Crisp skin, juicy chicken, fragrant rosemary, and crispy potatoes. A wonderful and comforting meal to end the week. Throw in a pan of rustic roasted carrots and you've got a complete meal.

The potato preparation is completely novel to me and I love it. You boil the potatoes first, then jostle them about in the pan to "fluff" up their exterior. In the process, it feels very wrong, like they will all break apart leaving you with a mess. But in the oven, all of that potato fluff coating crisps up creating the most delicious potatoes. Save a few for breakfast the next day, if you can, as they are fantastic with a fried egg.

Crisp-Skinned Chicken with Crispy Rosemary Potatoes
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, January 2011

Serves 4, or 2 with plenty of leftovers

6 russet potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise, 3/4 inch thick
Coarse salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 whole chicken, about 4 1/2 pounds (be sure to remove anything from the cavity, like giblets)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 small bunch fresh rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, 11 to 13 minutes, checking that a knife slides in and out without resistance. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Shake the potatoes over low heat to dry and fluff their exteriors. Don't shake so hard to break them up, but get a nice even coat of fluff. Remove from heat, coat with oil, and season with salt.

2. Mix together 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt and the cornstarch. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Rub skin with butter, coating the skin evenly. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the bird evenly and stuff a few sprigs of rosemary into cavity. Pile remaining rosemary in the middle of a rimmed baking sheet covered in parchment.

3. Place chicken on the rosemary, breast side up, tucking the wings under. Truss the legs with kitchen twine. Scatter the potatoes around chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, and carefully flip the potatoes. Return to the oven, rotating sheet. Roast until chicken juices run clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reaches 165 degrees, about 30 minutes more. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. If potatoes aren't golden all over, toss them with the rosemary, and return to oven for a few minutes until they are crisp on all sides.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Daydreams of autumn.

I have been thinking a lot of the season to come and put this treasury together for inspiration. Classes are gearing up, which means lots of busy days. Back with a recipe Friday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A favorite fruit in a favorite salad.

I wanted to share two things with you today: one of my favorite fruits and a super simple salad that highlights this delicious fruit. Growing up, I had seen Asian pears in the market, but never ate one. In fact, it never even occurred to me to buy one for years. That is, until I found this salad last year.

Since then, they have become an absolute favorite of mine. They are crisp and clean like an apple, but sweet and juicy like a pear. I love them out of hand, but there's something about them in this salad... the combination is nearly perfect. The salad is also ridiculously easy to make and handles substitutions really well. The original recipe called for arugula and champagne vinegar, but my husband is not an arugula fan so I used spinach and I don't have champagne vinegar so white wine vinegar had to do. However, I would argue it's just as good. The combination of the celery, Asian pear, and vinaigrette with the greens work so well, like each ingredient was made for the other.

If you're tired of the same old side salad or you've been wanting something fresh and healthy to pair with pasta, chicken, steak, etc., I highly recommend this salad. And if you spot Asian pears in the store this week (especially if they're on sale) pick up a few! Meanwhile, I will be in search of more ways to enjoy this fantastic fruit.

Asian Pear and Celery Salad with Spinach
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, September 2010

Serves 4

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar vinegar
2 medium stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias
2 cups baby spinach
1 large Asian pear, cored and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar. Add the celery, spinach, Asian pear, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and serve.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rustic roasted carrots with honey.

Like many home cooks, this time of year is a little tough for me. I love fall, and know its bright leaves and cooler temperatures are around the corner. The change in the weather will bring my favorites of fall including apples, apple cider, pears, root vegetables, and winter squash and with them lots of wonderful home cooked meals. On the other hand, here in the South it still feels hot like summer, but the piles of fresh corn and heaps of stone fruit no longer greet me at the market each week.

I wish autumn would hurry up and get here, but I know that once winter comes and the holidays are over I will be wanting a great tomato and some watermelon. Although I shouldn't rush the transition, just like every other year at this time I have already bookmarked recipes to try and I even roasted a chicken with crispy potatoes this week, which is madness when I consider that it feels like August outside.

Never the less, I really enjoyed the chicken and I knew when I was planning the meal that I needed a vegetable that would feel just as cozy. If you've never roasted carrots, you must as they taste unlike any other carrot preparation. Much like a toasted marshmallow, they have an almost smokey taste from the caramelized sugars but they are not mushy as steamed carrots can be (ick). These carrots also have a drizzle of honey, which really brings out the sweetness. It sounds odd, but don't skip this step as the honey takes these from a good dish to a great one. You might wait until fall to make these (and avoid the hot oven in the heat, very smart) but I think you'll find them to be a perfect accompaniment to so many things that you, too, will make them again and again.

Rustic Roasted Carrots with Honey
Adapted from Everyday Food, May 2008

Note: I don't measure when I make these anymore. For two of us, I use one bunch of carrots, plenty of salt and pepper, oil to coat, and a good drizzle of honey at the end. This recipe easily adjusts up and down in scale as you can't really mess it up as long as you let the carrots caramelize and season them well.

Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs carrots, cut on the diagonal into 2-inch lengths. Halve pieces lengthwise if they're thick.
1 tablespoon oil
1-1 1/2 tablespoons mild honey

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Toss the carrots with oil on a baking sheet and season well with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast the carrots for 30-40 minutes, tossing once, until tender.

2. Remove the carrots from the oven and drizzle with honey. Allow them to sit for a minute or two to allow the honey to blend with the carrots and serve.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I found these at the grocery store yesterday in the grape section and, having no idea what they were, I had to have them. They look a bit like gooseberries, but with brown speckles, and they are very large (about the size of a big gumball). The fruit was labeled "Bronze Muscadine Grape" but the shelf label read "Scuppernong." That name was too fantastic to resist.

Wikipedia tells me Muscadine grapes are native to the South and that scuppernongs in particular are the state fruit of North Carolina. Further, the oldest cultivated grape vine is a scuppernong vine on Roanoke Island which is 400 years old! I cannot believe I had never heard of them before, but it must have something to do with growing up in Central Pennsylvania.

Speaking of which, growing up, concord grapes were a big deal in the summer. My mother used to grow them and when we didn't have our own we waited until they showed up in the produce section for our fix. Scuppernongs remind me very much of the concord grape, with its seeds, tough skin, and sour/sweet interior. I've been eating them out of hand, but it seems that a popular use for these grapes is jam. Unfortunately, I don't have enough for this application; however, I could even see them on a salad, in a sandwich, or on a pizza (don't get me started on grapes on pizza... weirdly good).

If you have any experience with these grapes, I would love to hear about it. And, if you see them nestled among the usual red and green grapes at your grocery store I highly recommend giving them a try.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A weekly ritual.

Most every week for the last 3 years, Jared and I have celebrated the end of the week with a tradition we call Pizza Friday. This started when we were looking for a way to unwind after a long workweek when we would make big pizzas on baking sheets and watch movies while we ate. However, the tradition has changed over time and thanks to some friends moving conveniently close Pizza Friday is currently a little party that closes the week, often with a movie or a game to add to the fun. Thanks to my parents' gift of a pizza stone and peel, I can make four small pizzas to please our assorted palates in rapid succession. The one constant in this ritual, other than the sauce, is this dough recipe.

Once I found it, I have not used any others. I consider it occasionally, but this dough is so simple to make and just works so amazingly well that I always come back to it. You can make it the night before, allowing it to rise in the fridge before letting it come to room temperature and stretching it into rounds. If you really need to plan ahead, you can freeze it after dividing it up where it keeps for weeks and you can just thaw it out overnight and have pizza the next day.

Jared loves strombolis, and let me tell you this dough makes a great stromboli. Roll each portion out, fill with your favorite things (I like cheese, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, and browned onions) then brush the edge with egg wash, fold the dough over in half, and roll the edges under. Bake at 500 degrees for 15-25 minutes (check often, it depends on your fillings) or until golden brown and enjoy warm.

I share all of this with you because I hope that even if you've never made yeasted dough you'll give this one a try and experiment yourself. If you make this dough part of your repertoire I promise you'll find it simple to make, a myriad of uses for it, and you may even start each weekend with a casual get together of your own.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4 small pizzas or strombolis

12 tablespoons warm water, although you may need a tablespoon more depending on the weather...
4 tablespoons white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bowl
3 cups flour, plus more for the work surface

1. Whisk the wine, water and yeast in a large bowl until the yeast dissolves. Add honey, salt and olive oil (to keep the honey from sticking to the spoon, I put a little olive oil in it) and stir until combined. Add the flour and stir it until combined. It will look like a shaggy mess; start off with a spoon, then work it with your fingers until the dough comes together. If it's really dry and isn't cohesive, you can add some more water a tablespoon at a time, but this is generally not necessary. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for a few minutes until it looks smoother.

2. Wash out your large bowl and lightly oil it. Put the dough in the bowl, lightly coat it with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled. To test it, press two clean fingers into the dough. If it springs back, the dough needs to rise longer. If the deep impression is left, your dough is ready.

3. Preheat your oven to its highest temperature, which is 500 on my oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven to preheat. If you do not have a pizza stone, place a baking sheet in the oven to preheat.

4. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and gently deflate the dough with your fingers, gently pressing ton distribute the air. Cut the dough into four equal pieces and place under the upended bowl to rest, for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime, get all of your toppings ready. The pizza you see above is fig jam and prosciutto with mozzarella and goat cheese but there are many great combinations. I love a pizza margarita (sauce, mozzarella, and basil) but our friend Alicia is fond of a white pizza with goat cheese, mozzarella, bacon, and red pepper flakes. Just trust me that one the dough is made into rounds you want to assemble quickly to avoid having the dough stick to your peel.

5. On a lightly floured surface or with lightly floured hands, roll or stretch the dough into rounds. I usually start with my rolling pans before stretching it with my hands, but whatever works best for you is fine. Just be sure to make the dough pretty thin to achieve a nice, crisp crust. Place the crust onto a cornmeal-sprinkled peel or baking sheet and add your toppings. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone or baking sheet in the oven. I can fit two pizzas side by side on my stone, but go one by one if you need to. No one wants crowded pizzas. Bake for 7-10 minutes but start checking early as they can cook really fast. Slice and serve hot.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday. Finally.

I was going to tell you all about Pizza Friday today but after a long day of interviewing research assistants, gearing up for the semester, and then getting together with friends, I'm feeling like Pepper so it will need to wait for another day. Hope your weekend brings you rest and relaxation! New post tomorrow...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More bananas, please.

I'm having a banana moment right now. It hit me a few weeks ago, when I wanted to bake something banana. I probably hadn't eaten a banana for several months, but since then I have eaten them out of hand, sliced them up into my oatmeal, and hoarded Jared's leftovers for banana baking.

Last night, I found myself with two perfectly ripe bananas and went searching for a bananas recipe that only included ingredients I had on-hand and didn't require immediate consumption (sorry, bananas foster and banana-stuffed french toast...). This banana cake by Lucinda Scala Quinn fit the bill perfectly.

Since the recipe required melting butter, I went ahead and browned it since bananas are a natural match for that caramelized flavor. To do so, just melt the butter over medium heat and let it foam away. When the foaming subsides, it will start to brown but watch it carefully so it doesn't burn; a nice pale golden brown is perfect. Pour off the liquid, leaving the solids behind, and you're ready to use it in place of regular melted butter in almost any recipe. The caramel flavor is further ramped up by a brown sugar streusel topping. I need not tell you that this cake is delicious for breakfast, a rustic dessert, or even an afternoon snack.

Banana Cake with Browned Butter
Adapted from Lucinda Scala Quinn

Note: I had a few changes from the original. First, Lucinda used an electric mixer to finish combining the wet and the dry ingredients but I avoid using my mixer for any muffin method recipe so I mixed it all by hand. Your dishwasher (in my case, me) will thank you. Also, I didn't have buttermilk so I mixed 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup of plain yogurt and it worked just as well. Finally, you can of course use regular melted butter in place of the browned butter, but my humble opinion is that the couple of extra minutes are totally worth it.

Serves 8

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted and browned (see instructions above)
1/2 cup buttermilk (or see above for substitute)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), cut into pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan with butter. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Stir in the melted butter until the mixture is moistened. Stir in 1/4 cup of the buttermilk until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the other 1/4 cup of buttermilk with the eggs and vanilla until combined. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Add the bananas and mix thoroughly (but don't over-mix... remember, it's like a muffin batter). Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

3. For the streusel, place the butter, flour, and brown sugar in a bowl and rub with your fingers until you have pea-sized crumbs. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.