Smoked Salmon, Avocado, and Cream Cheese Sandwich

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Just remind yourself that salmon and avocado have healthy fats, and enjoy it. Balance it out with some sliced veggies and a piece of fresh fruit.

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I usually avoid taking sandwiches for lunch because of the morning prep that they require. You can’t make them the night before unless you’re okay with damp bread and limp lettuce. The time it takes to cut the tomato and onion and cucumbers, layer everything correctly in order to minimize the chance of anything getting soggy before lunch, carefully peel off one piece of cheese without little corners of it sticking to any of the others in the package and breaking… Those could be the precious 10 minutes between waking up at 5:50 versus waking up at 6:00. Huge psychological difference and totally not worth it. (Granted, this is coming from someone who is so categorically not a morning person that she packs her bag, sets up the coffee pot, makes her breakfast, and picks out her clothes the night before for the sole reason of being able to sleep as late as possible.)

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This sandwich makes the cut because it hardly takes any time to throw together, and, surprisingly, it holds up well. The avocado will stay green for a few hours because it’s cozied up in between the cream cheese and salmon, which act like little bodyguards that protect it from getting exposed to air and turning brown.

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I usually keep a loaf of bread in the freezer and occasionally pick up a package of smoked salmon when it goes on sale, so when I don’t feel much like cooking, I buy an avocado and some cream cheese and then make this sandwich for lunch. Here is how it’s done: You take your bread out of the freezer and pry two frozen slices off of the loaf. You build your sandwich and then take a sharp knife and cut the whole thing in half (yup, straight through the frozen bread), tuck it away in a tupperware, and let it hang out at room temperature until lunch time. If you are squeamish about it being unrefrigerated for a while, just remind yourself that every day in high school you snarfed down a turkey and cheese sandwich that had been sitting in your backpack for three hours, and you never thought twice about it. Or tell yourself that the frozen bread slices are performing the same function that a couple of ice packs would.

There are no huge quantities of anything here. You know when you start to chow down on your Chipotle but the first few bites are nothing but rice because the burrito is overstuffed and the filling hasn’t been distributed evenly? Yeah, as delicious as salmon is, you don’t want to get a mouthful of nothing but smoked fish. You want to be able to taste all of the ingredients since there are only three of them, right?! Four if you count the bread. Five if you count the sprinkle of salt. I’ve tried adding tomato, onion, or other extras, but it’s just not as good. I really believe that, for this sandwich, less is more. Choose some sides that will explore other parts of the food pyramid.

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Note: Don’t go for a chewy artisanal bread here. Everything holds together better with a soft sliced loaf.


Smoked Salmon, Avocado, and Cream Cheese Sandwich

per serving:

  • 2 slices soft whole-wheat or multi-grain sandwich bread
  • 2 Tbsp. (or so) whipped cream cheese (this is important—the “whipped” kind is soft enough to spread without ripping the bread)
  • 1/4 of an avocado
  • pinch of table salt
  • 1 oz. smoked salmon
  1. Spread one slice of bread with the cream cheese. Go all the way to the edges, just like you would if you were making a peanut butter sandwich the right way.
  2. Cut the avocado into 5 or 6 even slices. Place them in one layer on top of the cream cheese. I like to cut them into the appropriate shapes to get full coverage. (See photo above.) Sprinkle with table salt.
  3. Arrange the salmon evenly on top—it’s going to be a sparse layer.
  4. Top with the other bread slice and cut in half.
  5. Tastes best at room temperature.

 

 

 

 

 

Baklava for Breakfast: Yogurt Bowl with Oranges, Pistachios, Walnuts, and Spiced Honey

I went to H-Mart the other day and geeked out because they were selling bags of blood oranges for $2.99. An entire 2 pounds of absolutely beautifully unblemished (albeit smallish) blood oranges for $2.99! I immediately grabbed a bag and put it in my basket. And then got home and had no idea what to do with them.

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Turns out that blood oranges are the fresh produce equivalent of high heels. I bought them because they were just too gorgeous to pass up, not because they were practical. I didn’t actually have a need for them. I was in love with the idea of them. When I got around to trying to use them, I had to admit that professionals make them look way sexier than I do.

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Despite its name being a blunt and obvious warning (hello, blood orange here), it’s still shockingly gory when you slice into one. The color and the juice make your cutting board look like a crime scene. I mean, red beets have nothing on these guys. And yet, I was still tempted to get past the mess and make something pretty with them. Haven’t you seen all of those Instagram photos where spectacular rainbows are made from translucent slices of winter citrus? (Yes, you have.)

These things are way too messy to eat out of hand, unless you don’t mind looking like you finger-painted with cherry Kool-Aid powder. Perhaps this is why I’ve seen plenty of drink and dessert recipes that call for blood orange juice, but not many that use the fresh fruit, which is what I wanted to do. Preferably over yogurt, because I could supreme the orange and mostly avoid the stained-hands problem. Also because a yogurt bowl with seasonal fruit sounded like a delicious way to get out of my cold-cereal breakfast rut.

I surveyed the kitchen for what else would work well with the blood oranges. In the fridge, we had pink Cara Cara oranges (thank you, Trader Joe’s). In the freezer: an arsenal of nuts (thanks again, TJ’s). In the liquor cabinet: orange flower water (thank you, husband who likes making fancy cocktails). I decided to go for baklava-inspired toppings: toasted pistachios and walnuts, and a honey drizzle with a little bit of orange water, cardamom, and cinnamon. No, there aren’t any phyllo crumbles, but it is a nice change from the typical yogurt bowl.

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Note: I call for roasting more nuts than you need because it’s a pain to roast just 2 tablespoons, and the extras will keep for a long time in a sealed jar. Also, adjust away. I recently discovered that I love mixing half plain yogurt with half vanilla because—for me—it makes the yogurt the perfect amount of barely-sweet for adding toppings. If you like your yogurt less sweet, use all plain; more sweet, use all vanilla. You could also increase or decrease the amount of honey.


serves 1; can easily be doubled, tripled, etc

  • 1/4 c. raw pistachios
  • 1/4 c. raw walnuts
  • about 1/3 c. (or 1/2 an individual-serving container) plain Greek yogurt (I’m partial to Fage 2%)
  • about 1/3 c. (or 1/2 an individual-serving container) vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1 small blood orange
  • 1 small navel orange, I used pink Cara Cara
  • 1/2 Tbsp. honey
  • the tiniest pinch of ground cinnamon
  • the tiniest pinch of ground cardamom
  • a tiny pinch of table salt
  • a few drops of orange flower water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roast the nuts until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Let cool completely, and then chop. Transfer to an airtight container.
  2. Mix the yogurts together in a cereal bowl.
  3. Over another small bowl, supreme both of the oranges: First, trim the top and bottom. Next, cutting from top to bottom, trim all of the pith away. Finally, remove the sections by slicing next to each membrane; the sections should easily pop out. Remove any seeds you come across.
  4. Put the honey in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat it for 5 seconds or so, just long enough to get it thin and barely warm, which makes it easier to mix and pour. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and orange flower water. Taste, and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
  5. If you want your yogurt to stay thicker, remove the orange segments from their bowl and place them on top of the yogurt. (And then drink the juice that collected at the bottom of the bowl! Yum!) If you like your yogurt thinner, just dump the orange slices and their accumulated juices on top of the yogurt. Top with 2 tablespoons of the chopped nuts, and drizzle with the honey.

 

 

Flan Pâtissier: French-Style Flan

 

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It’s an intense situation that anyone who gets excited about food has been through: you’re out at a nice-ish restaurant for the first time, you’re waffling between two or three dishes, and you just can’t make up your mind. You can’t even fully participate in the conversation until you get your order figured out. You might as well be playing on your phone for how much attention you’re paying to your dinner companions. You want to try everything! It all sounds so good! And you know you’re not going to be making it back to the restaurant any time soon. What if you choose the wrong thing?? Oh, the agony!

Thank goodness for having friends and family who are just as happy as I am about going halfsies and sharing dishes so we can try more than one. There’s that moment when we finally decide what we’re going to get, and we high-five each other like our team just scored the winning point. (What, other people don’t do this to celebrate their awesome restaurant ordering skills?)

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Luckily for me, my husband and I frequently have the same tastes, with a few exceptions. For instance, he’s not a big dessert fan, and he doesn’t like chocolate. On one hand, this (ahem, weird and inexplicable) aversion means that I don’t have to share anything chocolate with him. When I order that fudge tartlet at the end of the meal, it’s all mine. On the other hand, this means that I don’t get to share anything chocolate with him… That batch of homemade cookies…it’s all mine. Every last one of them. I will end up eating every single cookie that doesn’t get given to friends or taken to work, because my husband will not touch them except to ask me to set aside some of the dough for him before I add the chocolate chips to it.

So, this throws a bit of a wrench in baking at home, especially during Snowzilla when you’re stuck inside and not pawning off your extra cupcakes and brownies on unsuspecting friends and coworkers. As I was stocking up for the blizzard, I actually went about it with the intention of not baking anything and contenting myself instead with mugs of Smitten Kitchen’s hot chocolate (sometimes spiked with bourbon). That mindset lasted for about two days, and then I started second-guessing my strategy and figuring out what spouse-pleasing dessert I could make with what we had.

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I settled on flan pâtissier, which is essentially a super-thick—as in, sliceable—custard cooked in a pie crust. (Not the same as Spanish-style flan.) I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit strange. In my (American) opinion, it’s not as sweet as most things you’d categorize as a dessert, but I noticed that many of the French reviewers of the recipe I followed commented that they had cut back on the sugar. The texture is unusual, too: it’s creamy, but imagine a cross between a pastry custard and a vanilla Jell-O jiggler. I remember trying flan pâtissier in France and not being blown away by it; in fact, this article by Ann Mah pretty much sums up my lackluster reaction to it. So why revisit it if I thought it was just okay? Well, first of all, it didn’t require trudging through 2 feet of snow to the nearest grocery store to pick up new provisions because it uses ingredients that are very basic: flour, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, and cornstarch. Second of all, knowing what to expect is important, and I think I was imagining that it would be like a slice of crème brûlée when I first tried it. It’s not. It looks richer than it tastes. Don’t go into it thinking that it will be soft and spoonable like most custards or flans available in the USA, or you will be disappointed. It is also noticeably less sugary than anything that qualifies as a “pie” in the States. Know that you’re supposed to wind up with something pretty firm, and know that is mildly-flavored. Third, I really enjoy most dairy-based treats. Lastly, my husband will actually eat desserts like this. I searched some French cooking websites to find crust and filling recipes; the crust turned out great and didn’t get soggy even without blind baking, and the vanilla filling was smooth and creamy. If I had chosen this flan pâtissier in a bakery (and probably suggested going halfsies on an almond croissant too), there would would been some high-fives after ordering.

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Note: This was my first attempt making flan pâtissier, and there are a few things I’d consider changing the next time around, like trying a parchment-lined 9″ cake pan instead of a springform pan. (The recipe didn’t specify what size pan was needed.) I don’t usually cook with vanilla beans—we happened to have one that was probably 3 years past its prime—so I would also be interested to see how it would turn out without the vanilla bean, and rely instead on adding the vanilla extract and a tablespoon of rum (suggested in many comments) after the custard thickened. I might also pass the thickened filling through a sieve before baking it. The pâté brisée recipe comes from Meilleur Du Chef (which I just realized has an English version, although it’s still in metric), and the flan pâtissier was adapted (barely) from the recipe submitted by Eryn Folle Cuisine on Le Journal Des Femmes


 

Flan Pâtissier

says it serves 8, but I think it serves more like 12

  • 1 pie crust—most flan pâtissier recipes call for a store-bought or home-made puff pastry or pie crust; I used the pâté brisée recipe below
  • 1 quart (4 c.) 2% milk, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 c. cornstarch (yes, you read that right)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open and scraped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter and flour a 9 1/2″ springform pan. Roll out the chilled pie crust into a 14″ circle and mold in into the pan, going about 2″ up the sides. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, and let chill in the fridge while you prep the filling.
  2. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup of the milk with the eggs, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the remaining 3 1/2 cups milk and the scrapings from the vanilla bean over medium heat. When the milk just starts to simmer, remove the pan from the heat but don’t turn off the burner.
  4. Very, very slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture: beat the egg mixture constantly and add a few drops of hot milk at a time until you’ve incorporated about a cup of it, then add the rest in a slow stream, continuing to beat constantly.
  5. Return the mixture to the pan and heat over medium, whisking constantly until thickened.
  6. Pour the filling into the crust (no need to blind bake the crust), and cook for about 40 minutes. Turn the heat up to broil, and broil for 1-3 minutes to color the top. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn!
  7. Let cool for a bit at room temperature, then place in the fridge and let chill completely before removing from pan and slicing.

 

Pâté Brisée, or what I would just call Pie Crust, or what the British apparently call Shortcrust Pastry

makes 1 generous single-crust pie shell

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 9 Tbsp. butter, cut into chunks and at room temperature (cut first, then leave on the counter to soften)
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • cold water, about 4 Tbsp.
  1. Mound the flour in a bowl. Sprinkle the butter chunks and salt on top. Rub with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. (It’s less sticky if you make sure the butter chunks are coated with flour before you start rubbing.)
  2. Mound the butter/flour mixture into a little mountain shape again. Put the egg yolk in the center, and—working from the middle of the bowl to the edge—use your fingertips to gradually start incorporating the yolk into the flour/butter mixture. Add water, 1/2 Tbsp. at a time, to help the dough come together. (I added about 3 Tbsp. total.) Avoid working the dough too much. Once you can gather it into a ball, flatten it into disk, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill for at least 30 minutes.

 

 

Creamy Gnocchi with Braised Chicken and Winter Vegetables

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After the holidays (or a vacation), do you ever eat so much heavy food (or junk) that you come home and just crave vegetables? I do. But come on, it’s so cold out there that I’m walking the dog in two pairs of pants, a scarf, and a knit hat on top of the hood of my hoodie, with my gloved hands shoved inside the fleeced-lined pockets of my down coat. I know that I can’t keep counting mashed potatoes and corn pudding as my only vegetables, but a cold romaine salad with mealy winter tomatoes and waxy cucumber slices isn’t going to cut it either.

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No, when I crave vegetables in the winter, I want winter vegetables. I want something warm and hearty, not something that I feel like I should eat just because you’re supposed to eat vegetables. I can’t get excited about the same light and refreshing things that I would choose during the summer. And I want to look forward to my food, even if I am making a conscientious effort to include more veggies in it.

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So, the pantry part of this dish came from some leftover butternut squash chunks and a bag of carrots, some frozen chicken thighs, an opened container of mascarpone that was mostly full, and some sage and parsley that had I picked before the frost finally killed it off. I rounded out the vegetables with mushrooms (because cooked mushrooms are delicious), parsnips (totally underrated and so good), and broccoli (mostly because I’m a big fan of broccoli but partly because I was motivated by a deeply-rooted and overwhelming conviction that Dinner Must Include Something Green (thanks, Mom)).

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Sage in the garden on a foggy morning.

I used pre-packaged gnocchi since I’ve tried and failed several times before to make home-made gnocchi; the kind that comes in a vacuum-sealed package is way easier and quicker, and maybe I’m just not too picky about my gnocchi because I’m a sucker for anything that’s like a dumpling / pierogi / potsticker.  All of the vegetables are braised with the chicken thighs—it’s a bit of a pain with the timing because they cook at different rates, and you don’t want your broccoli to be mush while your carrots are raw, but hey!, at least it’s all cooked in one skillet—and tossed with the gnocchi in a lightly creamy pan sauce. It’s a one-dish meal that doesn’t need any sides, except maybe a glass of wine.

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Note: You will need a 12″ skillet with a lid. This dish is best eaten the day it’s made; if you have leftovers, add an extra splash of chicken broth before you reheat them.  Also, my package of gnocchi claimed it was 3 servings, but with everything else that’s added in here, it easily serves 4.


Creamy Gnocchi with Braised Chicken and Winter Vegetables

serves 4

  • 8 oz. cremini / baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 generous cup of 1/2″- 3/4″ cubes of butternut squash (about 6 oz.)
  • 1 medium-large broccoli crown (about 6 oz.)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 lb.), trimmed of excess fat
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 c. chicken broth, divided
  • one 17.5-oz. package of gnocchi (I used De Cecco brand)
  • 1/4 c. half-and-half
  • 1/4 c. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • chopped fresh parsley for serving
  1. Prep all of the vegetables. You are going to add them to the pan at different times, so—except for the carrots and parsnips—keep them in separate bowls. Wash and stem the mushrooms, and pat them dry; quarter them if they are small and cut them into 6 or 8 pieces if they are large. Peel the carrots and parsnips and cut them on the diagonal into 1/3″ coins. Separate the broccoli crown into bite-site florets.
  2. Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle it on both sides with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on both sides, flipping once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a plate, and tent with foil.
  3. Add chopped mushrooms to the pan and cook until they release their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes total.
  4. Add the garlic and sage and stir for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until fragrant, then pour in the wine and scrape up any brown bits. Boil for 1 minute.
  5. Return the chicken thighs and any accumulated juices to the pan, and also add the carrots, parsnips, and 1/4 cup of the chicken broth. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and braise for 5 minutes. After the carrots and parsnips have cooked for 5 minutes, add the butternut squash to the pan, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 15 more minutes. Then add the broccoli, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 5 additional minutes.
  6. While the  vegetables are braising, cook the gnocchi according to the package directions, drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a small measuring cup, combine the half-and-half with 3/4 cup of the chicken broth. In a different cup, whisk the flour into the remaining 1/2 cup of broth.
  7. After the broccoli has cooked for 5 minutes, remove the chicken, place it in your serving bowl, and shred it with 2 forks. Pour the half-and-half / broth mixture into the pan and also add the mascarpone cheese. Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir until smooth. When the liquid starts simmering, add the flour/broth mixture and stir until thickened. Add the whole thing to the serving bowl, dump in the gnocchi, and toss gently to coat everything evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. Top each serving with a small handful of parsley.

Smoky Tomato Spread

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I was very tempted to proudly call this “Super Simple 4-Ingredient Smoky Tomato Spread,” but first of all, that’s a little wordy, and second of all, that would probably make me guilty of false advertising for one of the ingredients: roasted cherry tomatoes. Since I have a slight (*cough*) case of OCD about wasting fresh food, I roasted a bunch of end-of-summer garden tomatoes, and I’m still making my way through the quart-size bag of them that I stashed in the freezer back in September. But I realize that they’re not exactly a pantry staple for everyone. If you’re not a produce hoarder like me, get a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt, and roast at 300° for about an hour. If you are lucky enough to already have some roasted tomatoes in your freezer, too, then winner, winner, chicken dinner! There is hardly any prep work.

This spread was inspired by two things. First, after spending about a week out of town visiting family over the holidays, my husband and I were planning on spending a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, just the two of us—until about 7:00pm on December 30th, when we decided, What the heck, let’s invite friends over! And trust me, most of the less-than-24-hours we had to prepare needed to be spent cleaning the house, so the only appetizers I was considering making were ones that were maybe one step more complicated than taking the lid off of a veggie tray. Second, in high school I worked in a sandwich / cheese shop (which went out of business long ago), and we sold something called a “smoked tomato spread” that I thought was delicious. We didn’t make it in-house, and it wasn’t exactly what you’d call “artisan”: it came pre-packaged in a little plastic tub. I have no idea what was in it, but it’s one of those things that’s been in the back of my mind for years (years) about wanting to try to recreate. It had the texture of a cream cheese spread, so that’s what I used as the base.

IMG_6044I have seen recipes that call for smoking tomatoes or other vegetables with wood chips and the whole nine yards, and—while I’m sure it turns out delicious—I am a liquid smoke fan, especially since I found out that liquid smoke is not, in fact, a vial of synthetic chemicals; it’s made by condensing real smoke. Score! It’s inexpensive, takes a fraction of the time, and actually has good flavor. I bought a bottle of it for a crock-pot pork barbecue recipe, and I have been sold ever since. It helped give the spread the flavor that I was aiming for. I served the spread with crackers and bread, and leftovers have been great on sandwiches. And now I’m doing some wishful thinking about how dynamite it would be for breakfast on an everything bagel from Bodo’s…

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Smoky Tomato Spread

makes a little over a cup

  • 3/4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes (the dry-packed kind, not the oil-packed; shockingly, Whole Foods sells them for a good price)
  • 1 oz. roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
  1. Boil a cup of water and pour it over the sun-dried tomatoes. Let them soak for 15 minutes, and then remove them from the soaking liquid and use a paper towel to pat them as dry as you can. Discard the soaking liquid or use it for something else.
  2. Finely mince the sun-dried tomatoes and the roasted cherry tomatoes.
  3. Put everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste, if desired. I found that it didn’t need extra salt because both tomatoes already had some added.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.

 

Potato Cakes (and Garlic-Mashed Potatoes)

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Question: If you’re cooking dinner for just you and your significant other, do you really need to make two full pounds of mashed potatoes? Answer: Definitely. Because then you are guaranteed not to eat them all, which means you get to have potato cakes for breakfast on the weekend. Maybe even for two days in a row.

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I rarely cook something with the intention of making a specific dish with the leftovers. Sure, I’ll do a big batch of soup and plan on eating some now and freezing the rest, or I’ll throw together a sandwich with whatever we need to use up, but these potatoes cakes… The teacher in me freely admits that there was some backward design involved. My desired goal was potato cakes. My method of getting there was volunteering to cook dinner and then purposely making way too many mashed potatoes.

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I have been craving potato cakes since Thanksgiving weekend, when I made them for my family on Friday morning and they turned out disappointingly mediocre. They stuck to my parents’ stainless steel pan, and they were kind of goopy. Was the problem the pan? The potatoes? I’m not Alton Brown, so I couldn’t tell you for sure, but my hunch is Yes and Yes. What I can tell you for sure is that the combination of a well-greased griddle pan plus my garlic-mashed potatoes works great for potato cakes.

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The garlic-mashed potatoes I make contain no milk or cream; instead, I use sour cream and cream cheese, plus a little bit of Dijon mustard and a lot of roasted garlic. They are tangy and creamy and on the stiffer/drier side. As in, they would be able to hold their shape if they were served with an ice-cream scoop in a school cafeteria. In my book, that simply means that they’re just right on the night that you make them (want to sculpt a mashed potato mountain with a gravy lake? go for it), and they’re the perfect texture for making potato cakes a few days later.

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Once you’ve made the mashed potatoes, the only thing left to do is add some sautéed onion (I think a little texture is nice) and snipped chives (it’s pretty) to your leftovers, shape your cakes, and avoid turning up the heat to cook them faster because you’re so excited about eating them. They go great with fried or poached eggs and a cup of coffee.

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Note: The pictures are from the first batch of potato cakes that I made, which were thicker than my second batch. The recipe below will give you thinner cakes, which have a better crunchy-outside-to-creamy-inside ratio.


 

Potato Cakes:

makes 4, serving 2

  • 2 1/2 tsp. butter, divided
  • 1/4 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 c.)
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 c. leftover garlic-mashed potatoes (see recipe below)
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  1. Heat 1 teaspoon of the butter in a small non-stick pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion with the pinch of salt until the onion is soft and translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat if the onion starts to cook too quickly.
  2. Thoroughly mix the cooked onion and chopped chives with the leftover mashed potatoes.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter with the olive oil in a medium griddle pan or non-stick pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, shape the potato mixture into 4 patties, each about 3″ in diameter.
  4. When the griddle is hot, cook the patties until golden brown, flipping once, about 3-5 minutes per side. They can be a hard to flip, so lift them up a little to make sure the bottoms are brown enough, and when they’re ready, really shove your spatula under there. Serve immediately.

 

Garlic-Mashed Potatoes:

makes enough to serve 2 generously and then have leftovers for 2 batches of potato cakes on Saturday and Sunday

  • 1 whole head garlic
  • olive oil
  • 2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
  • 3 T. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 T. sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp. smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 4ooº. Slice the top 1/2″ or so off of the head of garlic. Place it on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with a little olive oil, and seal the foil tightly. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the garlic is soft. (Now is a good time to take the cream cheese, sour cream, and butter out of the fridge.) Cool slightly.
  2. Bring the potato chunks to a boil in a pot of salted water (salt it like you would pasta water), then turn the heat down to maintain a low boil and cook until fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well. I usually shake them around in the warm pot again after I drain them, just to make sure they’re nice and dry.
  3. Mash the cooked potato chunks with next 5 ingredients (cream cheese through kosher salt) and the cooled roasted garlic—just squeeze the head of garlic, and the soft roasted cloves will come out of their skins where you chopped the top off; no need to peel individual cloves. Add more salt if desired and freshly ground pepper to taste.

 

Za’atar Turkey Meatballs with Chard and Bulgur

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After Thanksgiving, you have absolutely zero motivation to go grocery shopping and make dinner again, right? You feel satisfied that dinner was success. The dishes got done while you were still tipsy, so cleaning up all those pots and pans didn’t feel like such a chore. You enjoyed leftovers for a few days and yup, you had pie for breakfast and mashed potatoes with gravy for lunch because hey, it’s still a holiday weekend, and besides, you don’t want all that food to go to waste!

It’s when I finally come home and look at my own messy house and empty fridge that the real aversion to cooking sets in, albeit temporarily. It puts me in a bad mood to think about having to pack my lunch for the week, and the only thing that makes me at least scrounge around for a passable meal is the knowledge that if I don’t make something, I’m stuck eating high school cafeteria food for lunch. Not to mention having to go to the cafeteria when it’s packed with students and then trudge back up to the workroom with a ridiculous pinkish-red styrofoam tray and the obligatory carton of milk. I’m not sure which would be worse, the food or the experience.

I finally was compelled to put something together as an act of productive procrastination—you know, when you do a more tolerable chore in order to avoid facing the completely unbearable task that really needs to gets done (in this case, unpacking and laundry). (Usually, the only time my house gets cleaned is when I have papers to grade.) I was hoping to make one of those good post-Thanksgiving dishes, where you’re not ready to go cold-turkey (haha, no pun intended) to a strict post-holiday diet free of meat and cheese and other delicious things, but you want to make something a little on the healthier side.

I had some ground turkey in the freezer (I always buy it when it’s on sale, and then I never get around to using it), an unopened package of feta in the fridge (ditto), all sorts of grains in the pantry, and some red chard and herbs still clinging to life in the garden since it’s been so unseasonably warm. I decided to go the turkey meatball route, and the feta made me think about Middle Eastern spices. You can get za’atar pre-made, but since I still had fresh thyme, I decided to flavor the meatballs with the components of za’atar—thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt—instead of using a mix. You can find sumac at places like Penzey’s spices. I bought mine a year or so ago to make a Lebanese dish, and it’s still very flavorful. I rounded out the meatballs with some coarse bulgur and the chard since they are both common in Middle Eastern cooking.

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Note: I would use more greens next time. I didn’t get as much as I expected out of the garden, and the bunch I supplemented from the store was on the small side. I used a combination of red and white Swiss chard, but you can use whatever you prefer, as long as you don’t mind that the red stems can get muddy-colored when cooked. Lastly, I call for coarse bulgar because I prefer its larger size, but fine or medium bulgur (or honestly probably any other grain…) would work fine; just adjust the cooking time.


Za’atar Turkey Meatballs with Swiss Chard and Bulgur

serves 4

  • 1 lb. ground turkey (I used 93% lean)
  • 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese, divided
  • 3 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely minced yellow onion
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1/2 Tbsp. ground sumac
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 c. fresh soft breadcrumbs made from a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread (I freeze the slice then whir it in the food processor)
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of cayenne flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus some
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. oil, divided
  • 1 c. coarse-grain bulgur
  • 2 c. + 1 Tbsp. water
  • 2 small bunches Swiss chard (about 3/4 lb), stems removed and chopped into 1/4″ – 1/3″ dice, leaves coarsely chopped
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat.
  2. Gently mix the turkey, 2 oz. of the feta, 2 of the cloves of minced garlic, and the next 9 ingredients (onion through 1/2 tsp. of salt) in a medium bowl. Do not overmix. Form into 16 evenly-sized balls.
  3. Cook the meatballs in 2 batches. Turn every 3-4 minutes until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes for each batch. They will lose their shape and come out more like pyramids than balls. Keep the cooked meatballs warm on a plate tented with foil, or in a low oven.
  4. While you’re cooking the meatballs, put the bulgur and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add salt to taste. Bring to a boil, put a lid on it, reduce the heat to low, and cook until all of the water is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat when done, and let sit with the lid on.
  5.  After you have cooked the meatballs, add the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil and the chopped chard stems to the skillet. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. water and stir to scrape up all of the browned bits. Continuing stirring frequently until the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining clove of minced garlic and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the chard leaves and salt to taste and stir until wilted, 3-5 minutes.
  6. To serve, fluff the bulgur with a fork and divide it among 4 plates. Top each with 1/4 of the cooked chard, 1/2 oz. of the remaining feta cheese, and 4 meatballs.

Apple-Almond Tart

 

IMG_5673Confession: I didn’t make this tart because I was trying to clean some stuff out of the pantry. I went out and bought some crisp green apples, a new bag of blanched almonds, a jar of apricot preserves, and a bottle of brandy just to make this. Because Thanksgiving deserves special food. And this tart is amazing.

IMG_5666I count myself among the legions of people who think that Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year. And we’re right. Given that you get along with your family (check) and there are some decent cooks in your family (check), the only things you’re supposed to do on Thanksgiving are just enjoy and appreciate your family’s company, and eat. I’m sold.

This year, my parents and husband and I will be running a 5k together on Thursday morning—you know, so we can tell ourselves we’ve made a little more room for the turkey (one grilled one smoked) and the stuffing (I’m thankful I’m not on a low-carb diet) and the corn pudding (just as sophisticated as green bean casserole) and the cranberry sauce (confession #2, I like the jellied kind straight out of a can) and the whipped potatoes (the regular kind) and the sweet potato purée (with smoked paprika, so good) and the apple-almond tart (seriously it is exceptional).

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It is worth getting a tart pan with a removable bottom (like this one) to make this tart. The bottom layer is a rich ground-almond concoction, and it’s topped with Granny Smith apples that are brushed with butter and sugar before baking and then a glaze of apricot jam and brandy after it comes out of the oven. It does take a while to put together, but it is worth every second. I’ve made it many times and have always gotten compliments on it.



Note: This recipe comes from Epicurious. I barely changed a thing.


Apple-Almond Tart

serves 10-12

For the crust:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. brandy
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 9 Tbsp. chilled butter, cut into 1/2″ chunks
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yolks and the brandy.
  2. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
  3. With the motor running, add the egg/brandy mixture and process until it forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least an hour.
  4. After the dough is cold, roll it out into a 14″ circle on a floured surface. Press into an 11″ tart pan with a removable bottom; make the sides twice as thick as the bottom. Chill while making the filling.

For the filling:

  • 1 1/4 c. slivered blanched almonds
  • 3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. brandy, divided
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature, divided
  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples
  • 1/4 c. apricot preserves
  1. In a food processor, combine the almonds, 3/4 c. sugar, eggs, 1 Tbsp. brandy, both extracts, and salt. Process until a paste forms, then add 4 Tbsp. of the butter and pulse until combined. Spread into the crust and chill for about 45 minutes.
  2. Peel and core the apples. Quarter them, and then cut into 1/8″ slices. Toss with 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 Tbsp. brandy, and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400º.
  3. Drain the apples and overlap them in concentric circles on top of the filling. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. butter and brush over the apples, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar.
  4. Bake at 400º for 15 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 350º and bake until apples are tender, about 45 more minutes.
  5. Gently heat the apricot preserves and the remaining Tbsp. of brandy until the preserves melt. Strain into a small bowl and brush over the tart (or just avoid the apricot chunks when brushing). Cool.
  6. Tart can be made 1 day ahead. Store at room temperature.

 

French Yogurt Cake

I enjoy trying new recipes to a fault—I’ll frequently be tempted to make something new just to see what it’s like instead of repeating a dish that I’ve cooked before and know is good. This cake, though, is so easy and crowd-pleasing, I’ve made it four times in the last month: for a bake sale fundraiser, for students who earned best student or most improved during first quarter, for my aunt who let us crash at her place instead of having to stay at a hotel for a wedding, and once just for me. It is super simple and comes together in no time, plus—bonus!—it involves minimal dishwashing. You only use one bowl to mix it in, which is pretty great, but the real fun part is that you use the empty yogurt container to measure the other ingredients. Which also means that you have a cute little anecdote handy if you make it for someone else.

This type of cake is extremely common in France (for cooking at home, not for buying in stores—sort of like banana bread in the States). If you go to google.fr and start typing in “gâteau,” the first suggestion that pops up is not chocolate cake or birthday cake, but yogurt cake. This one is similar to a pound cake but not quite as dense: it’s definitely cake, not bread, but it could be eaten for a snack or even breakfast (hey, it’s just a muffin in a loaf form (we all know that muffins are cake for breakfast, right?)) rather than dessert because it doesn’t taste too heavy or sugary.

Add the flour, then the eggs. Looks wrong but works.

The size is also pretty perfect for those of you who, like me, would like to make desserts more often but have to wait for whole-family get-togethers to roll around before you can try out that ginger-mascarpone icebox cake that you’ve been eyeing for over a year now because there’s no real reason for you to make a 12-serving cake for just you and your spouse.

The only flavoring called for in the original recipe is lemon peel, but I have tried it with both lemon and orange, and I much prefer orange. It also calls for plain yogurt, which is impossible to find in a 4-ounce container, so I use vanilla instead. I have seen other versions that suggest adding a tablespoon or two of rum; I am sure you could adjust the flavoring with that or other types of spirits or extracts.

The original recipe also did not specify what size pan to use, so I went for the smaller of my loaf pans: an 8.5 x 4.5″ one. It was a good amount of batter for the pan, and the cake turned out nicely domed—when you cut it, the slice is more like a square than a flat, squat rectangle. Most American loaf-style recipes I have seen call for a 9 x 5″ pan, and although you could probably sub that size, I haven’t tried it. The cooking time would be shorter, and your cake would be wider and not as tall. 



Note:  Adapted from this recipe for gâteau au yaourt from marmiton.org. For the yogurt, Dannon Activia and Stonyfield YoBaby both come in 4-ounce containers with a vanilla option.


French Yogurt Cake

makes one 8.5″ x 4.5″ loaf cake

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • one 4-oz. container vanilla yogurt, at room temperature for an hour
  • 1/2 container vegetable oil
  • 2 containers sugar
  • 3 containers flour
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature for an hour
  • 1 orange, zested
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly butter a 8.5 x 4.5″ loaf pan, line it with parchment paper so it overhangs the long sides by about 1/2″, and lightly butter the paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder and yogurt. Add all of the other ingredients in the order listed, whisking to incorporate after each one. (You will have to rinse and dry the yogurt container in between measuring the oil and the sugar.)
  3. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and bake until done, about 50 minutes.
  4. Cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the ends and remove the cake from the pan by grabbing and lifting the parchment paper. Let cool completely before slicing.

Butternut and Cannellini Bean Soup with Sage

Last week brought the type of fall weather that is so gorgeous that it makes me sound like Goldilocks: September is too hot, and November is too cold, but these sunny, cool October days are juuust right. Made for snuggling up in a sweatshirt in the evening. Ideal for jogging outside in long pants and a short-sleeve shirt. And, of course, perfect for getting excited about enjoying my favorite fall foods (/drinks): soup, butternut squash, and red wine.

I ended up with a butternut squash in vegetable garden sort of by accident. I had saved some kabocha squash seeds and planted them, but the first couple of seedlings got destroyed by a strong storm and a puppy running through the garden.  I figured I’d just have to wait until next year to try hard squash, but then I noticed that the compost bin was sprouting all sorts of veggies. I tried planting some of the sprouts that looked like squash, hoping one would be a kabocha, and instead I got a very healthy butternut. I swear I did not fertilize this thing more than once or twice; I’ve grown butternut before, and they did not turn out this gargantuan. The first one I picked was pushing 8 pounds and made me seriously consider entering a county fair for the first time ever.

So, feeling thankful that butternut freezes well, I set about making a soup with at least part of this enormous squash. I love the classic butternut-sage combo, so I used some fresh sage (and parsley) from the garden. Since I wanted the finished soup to be super smooth and not have little pieces of herbs floating in it, instead of chopping up the sage and parsley, I tossed the sprigs in whole while the soup simmered and removed them later.

Instead of peeling the raw butternut, I first roasted it unpeeled and then removed the peel, for two reasons. First of all, any hard squash can be a pain to peel when it’s raw, but it’s a piece of cake once it’s cooked. But besides that, handling butternut gives me that awful skin reaction pretty badly, and minimal touching of the raw squash helps avoid it.

I wanted the soup to have a least a little protein and heft without adding milk or cream, so I used a can of cannellini beans, liquid and all. They are super soft and creamy and blend up beautifully without adding a strong bean flavor to the soup.

For serving, some Parmesan gets grated on top because grated Parmesan makes almost any soup better, right? Also, although I did want the soup itself to be as smooth as possible, it’s nice to have a little crunch too, and a handful of roasted pine nuts does the job nicely.



Note: The soup could turn out thicker or thinner if the ratio of squash to broth is changed. I used a scale and weighed my squash, but that was 3 pounds of  pure, solid squash flesh, no seeds at all.


Butternut and Cannellini Bean Soup with Sage

serves 4-6 (I got 5 main-course servings out of this)

  • 3 lb. butternut squash (or a little more if you’re weighing a whole squash with seeds—see the note)
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided, plus more
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1 15.5-oz. can of cannellini beans
  • 2 sprigs of fresh sage (about 20 leaves total)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground white pepper (black pepper is fine; it’s just not as pretty)
  • about 1/2 c. finely grated fresh Parmesan
  • about 3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
  1. Preheat the oven to 425º. Cut the butternut into medium-sized (3″) chunks. No need to peel it. Place the chunks on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of the kosher salt. Bake until tender, about 30 minutes. It’s ok if the squash is not not 100% cooked because it’s going to simmer in the soup for a while. When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to remove the peel from the chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium to medium-low heat. When the oil is warm, add the shallot and the remaining 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and sauté until golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic. Stir constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the beans (with the bean water—no need to rinse and drain), the chicken stock, the peeled butternut chunks, the parsley, and the sage. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Take the pot off the heat. Remove the sage and parsley sprigs. Add the nutmeg and brown sugar, and let cool for a little while.
  6. Puree with an immersion blender until completely smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a food processor or regular blender, puree the soup in batches, and return to the pot; just make sure that the soup is plenty cool before you do this because the steam released when you blend hot liquids can blow the top off your blender and make scalding soup splatter all over you (I say from prior experience…).)
  7. Taste the soup. Season with white pepper and add more salt to taste.
  8. Just before serving, top each bowl of soup with about 2 Tbsp. of the Parmesan and a small handful of the toasted pine nuts.