Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pad See-Ew

One of the culinary bright spots while I was living in Ames for graduate school was the Pad See Ew at Thai Kitchen. Although the food scene in Madison is far superior to that in Ames, I have yet to find a Pad See Ew that I like as much as that one. Perhaps it was in part because I was usually eating lunch with Heather, one of the greatest people I know, but that dish still holds a soft spot in my heart. I was recently inspired to try and make it myself after going down a culinary rabbit hole of unknown origin, starting with this recipe from Serious Eats. Although nothing can compare to a dish made in a well-seasoned wok with years of flavor, this dish has much of the flavor I remember, my only regret being I had to substitute pad thai noodles for flat rice noodles. Oyster or fish sauce imbues the dish with umami, blending beautifully with chewy rice noodles, rich eggs, and fresh, crisp broccoli. It takes less time to make this meal than order delivery, is much healthier, and is at its best flavor and texture fresh from the wok so I know this is destined to make many more appearances for dinner. I look forward to tweaking and perfecting this recipe even further and someday getting to cook it for an old friend.

Pad See-Ew
adapted from Serious Eats
serves 4

4 ounces boneless chicken, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons oyster sauce or fish sauce
4 teaspoons light soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
Vegetable oil
8 ounces flat rice noodles or pad thai noodles
2 cups broccoli florets, sliced
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons sweet dark soy sauce

1.In a medium-sized bowl, toss the chicken with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and the baking soda. Set aside.

2. In a second medium-sized bowl, whisk together the oyster sauce, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and garlic clove.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles and cook according to the directions on the packaging. When done, remove noodles with a pair of tongs and drain in a colander. Toss with a tablespoon of oil so the noodles don't stick together.

4. Place the pot back over high heat and return to a boil. Place the marinated chicken in a large strainer and dip into the water. Cook until the chicken looks white. When done set the chicken aside in a large bowl.

5. Pour enough oil into a large work to just coat the bottom and turn heat to high. When just starting to smoke, add the broccoli. Stir-fry until broccoli turns bright green and becomes tender. Transfer broccoli to the large bowl and set aside.

6. Carefully rinse out the wok and then dry it. Pour in two tablespoons of oil, and turn heat to high. When just starting to smoke, crack in the eggs. Using a wooden spoon, scramble the eggs. When set, add the noodles. Toss well to separate the strands, and then let them cook for a minute.

7. Drizzle on the sweet soy sauce, toss well, and then let cook undisturbed until the noodles start to brown, about one minute. Add the broccoli and chicken back to the pan. Toss well. When everything is warm, pour in sauce. Stir fry until everything is coated. Turn off the heat and serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tuscan Kale with Maple, Ginger, and Pancetta

Kale is sneakily becoming one of my favorite vegetables. I love it prepared almost any way, from crispy roasted kale chips to tender sauteed kale, but my husband isn't quite the enthusiast that I am. Because I want him to love it as much as I do, I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Fast, Fresh, and Green by Susie Middleton, for help. I've never eaten a single thing from her cookbook I haven't adored, and she scores another home run with this recipe. It doesn't take a culinary mastermind to figure out that adding bacon or pancetta makes almost anything more delicious, but her deft hand with flavors expertly balances the fatty, salty pancetta with fresh ginger and sweet maple syrup without burying the flavor of the kale. The true sign of success was my husband saying that this is his favorite way he's ever had kale, so I know this recipe will remained bookmarked for a return visit. If you're trying to introduce yourself or someone else to hearty greens, start with this simple, flavorful recipe - if you don't like kale prepared this way, you probably never will.

Tuscan Kale with Maple, Ginger, and Pancetta
adapted from Fast, Fresh, and Green by Susie Middleton
serves 2

Kosher salt
1 bunch (8 to 9 oz) Tuscan Kale (a.k.a. cavalo nero or black kale)
1 oz very thinly sliced pancetta (3 or 4 slices) or bacon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
2 small lemon wedges

1. Fill a wine 4- to 5-qt pot 2/3 full of water. Add 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Remove the ribs from the kale. Grab the rib with one hand and rip the two leafy sides away from it with the other. Cut or rip the leaves into two or three smaller pieces. You'll have about 4 oz of greens. Add the greens to the boiling water and start timing immediately. Taste a leaf after 4 minutes. It shouldn't be tough or rubbery. If it is, cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Drain the kale very thoroughly in a strainer in the sink. Press down on the kale to squeeze out some excess liquid.

2. Put a medium (9- to 10inch) nonstick skillet over medium-low heat and arrange the pancetta slices in the pan. Cook the pancetta until crisp and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes, flipping once or twice. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Add the butter to the pan, and as soon as it melts, add the ginger and stir to soften in slightly in the butter, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and add the maple syrup. Stir well.

3. Life the kale from the strainer, squeezing one more time to release excess moisture, and add to the pan with the maple-ginger butter. Put the pan back over medium-low heat and toss the greens until well-coated and slightly warmed, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, taste, and season very lightly with salt. Crumble the pancetta over the greens. Toss briefly to mix and transfer to a serving platter. Alternatively, transfer the greens to individual plates and crumble the pancetta over the top. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spaghetti alla Carbonara di Zucchine

When it comes to eating healthy on a budget, you can't beat zucchini. Farmers are practically giving them away at the market, all the way the tender baby summer squash for sauteeing to the behemoths that only have a future in zucchini bread. Because I like to try as many different vegetables as I can from the market, I decided that I needed to make something with zucchini when the bumper crop first started piling up. I've made plenty of zucchini breads and muffins in the past, but this time I was in the mood for something decidedly more savory, like this wonderful pasta.

This is the perfect Monday night dinner in my book-vegetarian, quick to prepare, and full of whole grains and veggies without being boring. Though it may be tempting to try and get the most for your money by purchasing the biggest zucchini you can find, in recipes like this one where the zucchini flavor is right at the forefront, only use small or medium zucchini for the best flavor. The whole grain pasta goes perfectly with savory cheese and eggs, the freshness of the zucchini cutting through the fat just enough to keep the dish light. I'm not going to lie and say this is the same as true spaghetti alla carbonara, but it is a delicious meal that can be served happily to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. If you'd like to gild the lily a bit and come closer to the original dish, start by frying some bacon, cool and crumble it, and substitute some of the olive oil with rendered bacon fat. While on the subject of olive oil, in this recipe I'd opt for a decent olive oil, since it will be a significant contribution to the flavor palate, but certainly not your best since you'll be cooking with it. If you are adding bacon and cooking with the fat, the flavor of the pork fat will go a long way towards masking a less than stellar olive oil. And if you'd like to go whole hog with indulgence, you could could use a combination of bacon fat and butter in lieu of the olive oil, also a valid option if you're trying to feed someone who doesn't like the flavor of olive oil. The next time you're faced with a bounty of zucchini and looking to venture beyond zucchini bread, give this savory option a try. Light, fresh, and flavorful, it definitely deserves a place at your summer table.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara di Zucchine
from Bon Appetit
serves 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 pound medium zucchini, trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
12 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
6 large fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces, divided

1. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until pale golden, about 1 minute. Add zucchini and sauté until beginning to color, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; discard garlic.

2. Meanwhile, whisk eggs and Parmesan in large bowl to blend. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta; add to egg mixture and toss to coat (heat from pasta will cook eggs).

3. Add zucchini mixture and half of basil to pasta; stir gently to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining basil and serve.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry

A lot of people automatically turn up their noses at the mention of tofu, but I'm definitely not one of them. Many people are a little wary of the somewhat gelatinous texture, I absolutely love the contrast between the brown and chewy outside and tender middle of stir-fried or baked tofu. Its inherent flavor isn't something that I go crazy for (though it doesn't turn me off either), but tofu is a great blank canvas for almost any ingredient, especially Asian flavors. Another advantage of tofu? No advanced planning required to make sure its thawed when it comes time to make dinner.

On Monday nights, I'm often trying to make up some ground after the vices I indulged in over the weekend, leading to a lot of vegetarian meals with eggs, beans, or tofu as the protein hitting the dinner plate. This simple, but flavorful stir-fry is a great way to atone for the dietary sins of the weekend, filled with vegetables and lean protein glazed with spicy sweet and sour sauce and topped by the salty crunch of toasted cashews. Fresh broccoli is by far your top choice here, creating the best contrast in both flavor and texture, but even frozen broccoli will do in a pinch (and won't require the blanching step). If tofu just isn't your thing, this recipe will also work perfectly with chicken, or broccoli all on its own. I served this stir-fry over brown rice, but it would also be great over rice or soba noodles, or even whole wheat spaghetti or linguine. The next time you're reaching for the take-out menus, try this quick stir-fry instead-it'll make it to the dinner table faster than delivery and leave you feeling much better after.

Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry
from Martha Stewart Everyday Food
serves 4

1 package (14 1/2 ounces) firm tofu, drained, cut crosswise into 6 slabs (about 3/4 inch wide), each slab halved horizontally and cut into triangles
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stalks trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch rounds, florets separated into bite-size pieces
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup cashews, toasted

1. Arrange tofu in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels. Top with more paper towels and another baking sheet; weight with canned goods. Let tofu drain, about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cook broccoli (stalks and florets) in a large pot of boiling salted water until bright green, 2 minutes. Drain; set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu; cook until golden brown, turning gently halfway through, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

4.  Meanwhile, make sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, red-pepper flakes, garlic, cornstarch, and 3/4 cup water; set aside.

5. Add broccoli to skillet; cook over high heat, stirring often, until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk reserved sauce to combine; pour into pan. Return tofu to pan; stir to coat, about 1 minute more. Serve topped with cashews.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

New Potato Salad with Fresh Peas, Lime, and Yogurt

When I made Potato Salad with Green Beans and Salsa Verde on the 4th of July, after we finished eating, my husband asked if I'd considered making a creamy potato salad before I chose that recipe. He's much more of a traditionalist that I am (some might say a bit unadventurous), and although he'll general choose simple foods when ordering at a restaurant, he'll indulge me when I serve less-than-traditional meals, often making unexpectedly delicious discoveries. This recipe is a great example of how to toe the line between between traditional and adventurous and healthy and indulgent. The dressing has all the wonderful creaminess of a traditional potato salad, lightened up with Greek yogurt or sour cream whose tanginess magnifies the freshness of the peas, mint, and scallions. Like in Potato Salad with Green Beans and Salsa Verde, I love potato salad that also has vegetables, not only because it makes it healthier, but because it condenses the starch and vegetables side dishes into one. If your dining companions aren't quite ready for lime and/or mint in their potato salad, feel free to substitute lemon juice or vinegar and parsley or chives or whatever acid and herbs strike your fancy. Whether you're looking to lighten up cook-out fare or simply branch out a bit from tradition, this dish definitely deserves a place at your summer table.

New Potato Salad with Fresh Peas, Lime, and Yogurt
adapted from Fast, Fresh, and Green by Susie Middleton
serves 4

1 lb baby Yukon Gold potatoes or new potatoes
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed
1 lb fresh peas in the pod, shelled, yielding 1 cup peas (frozen are okay too)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup thick Greek-style yogurt (whole or 2%) or sour cream
1 teaspoon loosely packed finely grated lime zest (from about 1 lime)
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sliced scallions
3 tbsp thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the potatoes and 2 teaspoons of the salt in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain the potatoes and peas carefully in a colander and rinse them gently with cool water for a few minutes. Spread the potatoes and peas out on a small rimmed sheet pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes to cool.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt or sour cream, lime zest, and lime juice in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cooled potatoes and peas, the scallions, 2 tablespoons of the mint, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly with a silicone spatula. Taste and add a little more salt, if desired. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon mint.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shrimp and Noodle Salad with Ginger Dressing

Although safely ensconced in my central air-equipped house during the days of record-setting oppressive heat, I could barely bring myself to turn on the stove or oven to cook dinner and certainly had no appetite for anything warm. In the dog days of summer, cool, fresh meals like this noodle bowl are exactly what I crave. The combination of whole wheat noodles, crunchy vegetables, and savory shrimp blended together with cilantro, scallions, and a vibrant dressing comes together in a manner of minutes thanks to a number of short-cut ingredients. It's flavorful enough to wake up almost any palate, but still mild enough to be a crowd-pleaser, provided you're not feeding anyone who hates cilantro. If you like your food with heat, as I do, I recommend adding a bit of Sriracha at the end. And although I'll rarely turn down a dish involving shrimp, this can easily be made vegetarian by substituting baked tofu for the shrimp, or just omitting them entirely. With all the psychologically and gastronomically satisfying characteristics of take-out sans the calories, MSG, and expense, this is the perfect meal for busy, steamy summer days.

Shrimp and Noodle Salad with Ginger Dressing 
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

8 ounces dried udon noodles or whole wheat spaghetti or fettuccine
12 ounces shredded coleslaw mix
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 cup cilantro leaves
3/4 pound cooked medium shrimp, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon Chinese chile-garlic sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Lime wedges and Sriracha (optional), for serving

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry and transfer to a large bowl. Add the coleslaw mix, scallions, cilantro and shrimp.

2. In a blender, combine the teriyaki sauce with the ginger and chile-garlic sauce and puree until smooth. With the machine on, slowly add the vegetable oil in a thin stream and puree until the dressing is emulsified. Season lightly with salt. Add the dressing to the bowl with the udon noodles and toss well. Serve the noodle salad with lime wedges on the side, and a shot of Sriracha, if desired.

Make Ahead The dressed salad can be refrigerated overnight. Add the shrimp just before serving.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Potato Salad with Green Beans and Salsa Verde

When it comes to potato and pasta salads, I'll usually pick a vinegary version over a mayonnaise-based one. Perhaps it's because the mayonnaise-based versions tend to be fatty, bland concoctions, but it's most likely because acid (lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) is one of my favorite ways to season a dish. I eat roasted vegetables like asparagus and broccoli with a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar on a regular basis, and I simply can't eat roasted potatoes without malt vinegar anymore. All that being said, this potato salad is right up my alley. Made more than just a starch bomb with the addition of a generous helping of green beans, this is the epitome of fresh summer flavor, packed with the bright flavors of herbs fresh from the garden and lemon juice. If any of the herbs listed isn't to your liking, throw in any fresh herbs you love or happen to have at home. (Since I am a cilantro devotee, I can already seeing another version of this potato salad hitting my plate sometime this summer.) The perfect accompaniment to the sirloin steaks I threw on the grill for  the 4th of July, this potato salad is boldly flavored enough to not get forgotten next to the main event of beautifully charred, medium-rare succulence. Sure to be a hit at any summer cookout where guests are willing to try something beyond the perfectly traditional, try out this recipe the next time you're looking to shake up the typical cook out menu.

Potato Salad with Green Beans and Salsa Verde
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 6 to 8

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced chives
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 pounds new potatoes (preferably red), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
Chive blossoms, for garnish (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil with the chives, parsley, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic and season with salt. Let the salsa verde stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water, add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes over moderately high heat until just tender, about 8 minutes; drain and return them to the saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and toss to coat. Season with salt.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the beans and cook until crisp-tender, 4 minutes; drain.

4. Return the beans to the pot and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Season with salt.
Add half of the salsa verde to the potatoes and half to the beans, stirring to coat. Transfer the beans to a serving bowl. Top with the potatoes, garnish with the chive blossoms and serve right away.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sesame-Coated Chicken with Broccoli

Although generally I prefer authentic Chinese food, when I'm in the mood for the Americanized version, sesame chicken is one of my most common choices. Although it still hits the spot, the older I get, the less interested I am in the super-sweet, MSG-laden electric orange version, so I quite often prefer to make my own at home. Although it doesn't have quite the crunch that the deep-fried restaurant version can provide, I was pleasantly surprised by how crunchy and flavorful the coating turned out to be using just a scant amount of flour, sesame seeds, and a modest portion of oil. Combined with fresh and crunchy broccoli and a mildly spicy, savory sauce this makes for a treat of a meal that won't leave you regretting it the next day (though you still may find yourself searching for leftovers in the middle of the night). Left to my own devices I'd at least double the amount of crushed red pepper, but when sharing with a more spice-cautious companion like my husband, this recipe is just right as is. Coming together in less time that it takes for Chinese to arrive at your doorstep, this recipe is the perfect choice next time you're craving takeout.

Sesame-Coated Chicken with Broccoli 
from Food and Wine
serves 4

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/4 cup sesame seeds, preferably unhulled
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound broccoli, stems peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds, tops cut into florets
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Steamed rice, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, season the chicken with salt and pepper, and toss with flour to coat thoroughly. Let the chicken stand for a few minutes, until the coating gets soggy. Pour 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over the chicken and toss to coat, then coat the chicken with the sesame seeds.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the chicken in an even layer and cook over high heat, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook until browned on the second side, about 2 minutes. With tongs, transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet and put it in the oven while you finish the dish.

3. In the oil remaining in the skillet, cook the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and boil over high heat until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the broccoli, cover and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the oyster sauce, season with salt and remove from the heat. Gently stir in the chicken and sesame oil and serve with steamed rice.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

I love cold grain salads in the summer. While I dive into green salads packed with fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis as well, they can't be prepared in big batches to enjoy for a few days without the quality going downhill rapidly with time. Grain salads, on the other hand, often get more flavorful with time as the flavors meld together and intensify (though you still shouldn't leave them too long). My grain of choice, especially for a main course, is quinoa. Quinoa is a complete protein, has a wonderfully chewy texture and nutty flavor, and can be prepared very quickly and easily. Once a very exotic ingredient, quinoa is slowly making its way into the mainstream, even available at Target. Here quinoa is blended with crunchy sugar snap peas, salty crunchy pumpkin seeds, and fresh chives, blended in a simple, balanced vinaigrette. Absolutely delicious just as written, the recipe is also a great template for making any grain salad that strikes your fancy. Swap our quinoa for another grain, peas for whatever the best looking vegetable is at the farmers' market, pumpkin seeds for other seeds or nuts, and chives for any fresh herb you love. Although it's a cliche, it certainly rings true here-the possibilities are endless!

Quinoa Salad with Sugar Snap Peas 
from Food and Wine
serves 6

1/2 pound sugar snap peas
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup salted roasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup minced chives

1. In a small saucepan of boiling salted water, simmer the peas until bright green and crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain and spread out on a large plate to cool, then pat dry. Cut the peas on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat until all of the water has evaporated and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa, then transfer to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.
3. In a bowl, combine the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add the peas to the quinoa with the pumpkin seeds, chives and dressing; stir. Season with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.