Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thai Chicken Nachos

Normally when I go on a culinary tangent I like to mete out my recipes in any one particular theme slowly, but since we've only got a few weeks of football snacking left, I thought I should get my nacho recipes out in short order. Last time I shared nachos of the Italian persuasion, but this time I borrowed from a totally different culinary tradition for something lighter and spicier, Thai Chicken Nachos. Where Italian Nachos were rich and deeply savory, these nachos are light and spicy, two different but equally satisfying ways to satisfy your nacho craving. A generous amount of scallions, cilantro, and jalapeno make these nachos fresh and give a nod to the traditional recipe. Feta cheese maintains the requisite cheesy goodness in light and salty fashion, and the chicken and peanuts make them substantial and savory. If you're looking to spice up your football snacks or simply indulge without doing too much damage, this is the recipe for you.

Thai Chicken Nachos
serves 1 to 2

Cooking spray or canola or olive oil
4 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into small pieces
2 ounces tortilla chips
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1 fresh or pickled red or green jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons prepared peanut sauce, diluted with 1 to 2 tablespoons water
Finely chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Meanwhile, preheat a skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add chicken and cook until meat is no longer pink and at least 170 degrees F.

2. Place tortilla chips on an oven-safe platter in an even layer. Top chips with scallions, cooked chicken, half the cilantro, jalapeno, and feta cheese. Drizzle diluted peanut sauce over the top.

3. Place platter in the oven and bake until nachos are warmed through and cheese is slightly melted (feta does not melt like mozzarella, etc.). Top with the remaining cilantro and peanuts, if using, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Italian Nachos

There are bowl games and NFL playoffs coming up, and let's face it, you need snacks. I spent most of the Packer season making personal pizzas/flatbreads and experimenting with different variations on poutine, but after I decided I'd exhausted my creativity with those foods (at least for the time being), I starting flexing my culinary muscle with nachos. First of all, I should say that I'm using with word nachos very loosely here (i.e. tortilla chips with toppings), but since no real Mexican cuisine actually includes nachos, I don't feel bad about flexing the definition. That being said, who doesn't love tortilla chips smothered in cheese, sauce, meat, and veggies? I started my nacho tangent with something very standard and about as Mexican as nachos ever get-chicken, black beans, corn, cheddar, salsa, sour cream, scallions, and cilantro. While that was an absolutely delicious plate of indulgence, my mind immediately started to calculate other delicious combinations, this being my first nonstandard creation. It may be a bastardization of two cultures, but there's no denying that  sausage, peppers, onions, marinara and mozzarella are all great friends and make tortilla chips just as happy as they do pasta. But if this rich dish makes you feel a little too guilty, just sneak it in before New Years' resolutions roll around and make up for it in 2013.

Italian Nachos
serves 1 very hungry person or 2 average appetites

1 link sweet or hot Italian sausage
1 small yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces jarred roasted red bell peppers, rinsed and cut into strips
2 ounces tortilla chips
1/2 cup marinara sauce
2 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Meanwhile, remove the casing from the Italian sausage, and cook in a large skillet about 7 to 8 minutes, until sausage is nicely browned. Add the sliced onions to the skillet and continue to cook until onions are browned and tender, about 8 to 10 minutes more, adding the roasted red peppers during the last few minutes of cooking to warm through.

2. Place tortilla chips on an oven-safe platter in an even layer. Top chips with sausage, pepper, and onion mixture, pour marinara over the top, and sprinkle with mozzarella.

3. Place platter in the oven and bake until nachos are warmed through and cheese is melted and browned in spots, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw

I have the ambitions to cook for a crowd, but not the audience. Although I'll host a bigger meal from time to time, most of the time I'm just cooking for one or two. A lot of time I'm scaling back recipes that feed many more, but a linear adaptation isn't always the best one. I don't have the time to tweak my scaled back recipes until they're perfect, and so America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two has become my new cookbook obsession and my guide to tackling my six pound head of cabbage. In addition to spot-on main course recipes like Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken, they have great recipes for using up leftover odds and ends of ingredients, like Beer Braised Cabbage. This slaw, the third cabbage recipe I made from ATK's Cooking for Two, is the perfect accompaniment for a rich protein like salmon or barbecued ribs. It's light, crunchy, and refreshing, with a dressing that expertly balances acidic, sweet, and rich elements. A nice contrast to the traditionally heavy dishes of winter, this burst of freshness cut right through my succulent smoked salmon sandwich and the bitter winds of winter blowing outside.

Tangy Apple-Cabbage Slaw
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

1/4 small head cabbage (4 ounces), cored and chopped fine (about 2 cups)
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thin matchsticks
1 scallion, sliced thin (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

1. Toss the cabbage with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a colander set in a bowl. Let sit until wilted, about 1 hour. Rinse the cabbage with cold water, then drain and dry well with paper towels. Transfer to medium bowl and stir in the apple and scallion.

2. Bring the vinegar, sugar, oil, mustard, and red pepper flakes to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Pour the mixture over the cabbage and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour, or up to 1 day. (If refrigerated for longer than 2 hours, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken

My last CSA box contained, among other things, a 6+ pound head of green cabbage. It was an intimidating presence at first, but I've since found many a culinary destiny for that hearty head of cruciferous goodness. I'm soon to embark on my first attempt at making sauerkraut, but I tackled a few lighter recipes first, starting with this delicious chicken salad. As long as I like the ingredients, I can count on any America's Test Kitchen recipe to be delicious, and this certainly continued that pattern of excellence. The salad is in principle quite simple - a generous bed of fresh and crunchy vegetables and herbs topped with tender chicken and tossed with a light dressing. The success of this recipe is in great part because of the dressing, which really showcases the precise nature of America's Test Kitchen - just the right amount of a host of ingredients blended in salty, sweet, savory, spicy harmony. No one ingredient dominates the flavor of the dressing, but each brings just enough of itself to contrast and balance all the others.

My winter eating patterns are a study in opposites - I crave both hearty, heavy comfort foods like meatloaf and chili that fill me up and steel me against the cold and light and spicy meals like this one that transport to warm and sunny lands that knoq nothing of snow and subzero temperatures. When I initially saw this recipe,  it didn't feel quite hearty enough for a winter dinner, but it was more than enough to fill my belly and remained refreshing and satisfying even the next day.

Warm Asian Cabbage Salad with Chicken
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

1/2 small head napa or green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (about 1/2 pound)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup minced fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 scallions, sliced thin on the bias (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peanuts

Chicken and Dressing
1 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated or minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon Asian chili-garlic sauce, or to taste

1. For the salad: Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. For the chicken and the dressing: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in an 8-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken breast in the skillet and cook until lightly browned on the first side, about 3 minutes.

3. Flip the chicken, add 1/3 cup water, and cover. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes longer.

4. Transfer the chicken to a carving board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.

5. Discard any water left in the skillet and wipe clean with paper towels. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the shredded chicken and cook until warmed through, about 30 seconds.

6. Pour the chicken and dressing over the cabbage mixture, toss to combine, and serve.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mini Honey Mustard Meatloaves

As for many people, meatloaf is one of my favorite comfort foods, but without a big family to feed, recipes that make one or two loaves at a time can be a bit much. This recipe, however, is absolutely perfect for feeding one or two people for a just meal or two. It's only a short list of readily available ingredients that go into these miniatures, but they still induce all the warm and fuzzy feelings that a good meatloaf should. Delicious piping hot from the oven with a side of mashed potatoes, the leftovers are splendid repurposed into a meatloaf sandwich topped with caramelized onions and even more cheese. If you want to freeze extra (uncooked) meatloaves, as I did, skip the honey mustard-ketchup mixture and cheese topping until you're ready to bake them. Even if the darkness and cold temperatures of winter aren't to your liking, it's the perfect time to cozy up at home with a hearty plate like this one.

Mini Honey Mustard Meatloaves
adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food
serves 4

2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup whole wheat panko
1 cup shredded cheddar (about 4 ounces)
Coarse salt and ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with oil. In a small bowl, mix together honey  mustard and ketchup.

2. In a medium bowl, combine beef, egg, panko, 1/2 cup cheddar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Form into four 2-by-4-inch loaves; place on baking sheet. Brush with mustard mixture; top with remaining 1/2 cup cheddar.

3. Transfer meatloaves to oven and bake until loaves are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets after 10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Moroccan Stuffed Squash

Thanks to my winter CSA, I've eaten seemingly countless different kinds stuffed squash, but I have to say this is my favorite. I've gotten a lot of recipes from tried and true sources, made up recipes on the spot with whatever I happened to have around, but The Sprouted Kitchen is my latest cookbook obsession because of perfect recipes like this one. The first stroke of genius is cooking the quinoa in coconut milk, something I'm ashamed I never thought to do myself. It makes the quinoa unbelievably creamy and the crunch of the pistachios and pop of the pomegranate seeds have the perfect textural contrast. These same elements also contrast each other beautifully in flavor - subtly rich coconut milk quinoa is the perfect canvas for tart pomegranate seeds, rich pistachios, salty feta cheese and fresh herbs. I happen to think that combination of nuts, fruits, cheese, and herbs is paragon of flavor, but feel free to swap out any of these elements for others than strike your fancy. By far the most interesting collection of ingredients I've ever had the pleasure of stuffing into a squash, this dish is sure to appear on my dinner table until my bounty of squash is depleted.

Moroccan Stuffed Squash
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
serves 4

2 medium acorn squash
3 tablespoons coconut oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon each ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon each ground cumin
1/4 cup thinly sliced preserved lemon peel or 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup feta cheese, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup chopped toasted pistachios (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Rub 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil on the cut sides of the squash halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet and pierce the skin a few times with a fork. Roast 20 minutes. Flip them over and continue cooking until you can easily poke a knife through the flesh at its thickest part, another 10 to 20 minutes depending on its size. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. While the squash are cooking, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer. Bring the coconut milk to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the quinoa; turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Cook until liquid is absorbed, 15-18 minutes; then turn off the heat and let the quinoa steam in the saucepan for 5 minutes.

3. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons coconut oil, the paprika, coriander and cumin to the quinoa and toss to combine. Add the preserved lemon peel, mint, cilantro, orange juice, pomegranate seeds and feta and toss together. Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary

4. Divide mixture between the squash halves. Garnish with a sprinkle of feta and the pistachios. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Creamy Root Vegetable Soup

The only thing I can count on with my winter CSA is that I'm going to get a lot of squash and root vegetables. I'm always browsing for recipes that use up a lot of one vegetable, but once I'm done with I'm those, I'm often left with an assortment of small amount of vegetables that I'm not quite sure what to do with. The last bits of my first CSA box included parsnips, celeriac, carrots, potatoes, and leeks, so it seemed almost supernatural fortune to find this recipe that used up all my odds and ends. Although there's a lot going on root vegetable-wise in this soup, they all balance each other nicely. The carrots, celeriac, and leeks are a subtle variation on the classic mirepoix, with the parsnips adding a bit of zestiness and the potatoes body and creaminess. Blending the vegetables makes this hearty soup silky and infuses garlic and fresh herbs into every bite. Although the particular combination of root vegetables and herbs was especially delicious, this recipe is also an excellent template for experimentation. Between plates of indulgence at holiday celebrations, use this recipe to fill yourself with healthy vegetables and brilliant winter flavor.

Creamy Root Vegetable Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small celery root, peeled and sliced 1/3 inch thick
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium red potato, cut into 1-inch dice
1 large leek, white and tender green, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock or canned low-sodium broth, defatted
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the parsnips, celery root, carrots, potato, leek, garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of water. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, cover the pan and reduce the heat to moderately low. Cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Transfer the soup to a blender and puree until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. (Alternatively, blend the soup in the both with an immersion blender). Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the rosemary and serve.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Beer-Braised Cabbage

Despite a decidedly English last name, I have a lot of German heritage. That, combined spending my formative years in Wisconsin, has left me with a deep love for the perfect pair of sausage and cabbage. Although sometimes my cabbage cookery can get a bit more exotic, there's still nothing better bratwurst and sauerkraut or slow-cooked cabbage and kielbasa. Unfortunately, there's not always time for fermentation or hours of braising when you've got a hankering for some cabbage (or one from your CSA box that needs to be used), but this recipe is the perfect solution to that problem. Adapted from a recipe from the paragon of precision cooking, America's Test Kitchen, this uses just a few common ingredients to turn cabbage into a flavorful side in just a few minutes. With so few ingredients, even the choice of beer is important here; more intensely flavored beers could become bitter in this recipe, so a mild beer is the best choice. Being the beer snob that I am, I still couldn't use a mass-produced American adjunct lager, opting instead for a mild craft beer (Three Floyds Pride and Joy Mild Ale). The butter and reduced beer make this silky and just a bit rich, but the mustard and vinegar accents maintain a sharpness that cuts through the fattiness of the accompanying sausage. As frigid temperatures being to make their entrance, this soul-satisfying dish will be most welcome at your winter table, the perfect excuse to indulge in some rich sausage and a frosty mug of beer.

Beer-Braised Cabbage
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2010
serves 2

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup beer (mild American lager, etc.)
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 small head green or red cabbage (12 ounces), cored and sliced thin
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beer, mustard, and thyme, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Stir in the cabbage and vinegar, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is wilted and tender, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pumpkin Pecan Granola

I eat a lot of granola. Yogurt topped with granola is my breakfast a couple times a week, and because of the huge variety of granola that can be made or purchased, I never tire of it. That being said, this has to be the best granola I've ever made. It had me from the word pumpkin in the title, but sold me even more when I came to the words maple syrup in the recipe. All too often this time of year, I get lured to products that merely use pumpkin spice and not actual pumpkin, but this granola uses both with great success. The pumpkin flavor is definitely present, if subtle, its sweetness playing perfectly with that from the maple syrup. Sesame seeds, which I've only starting using them in my granolas recently, provide a contrasting richness and toastiness that complements the same elements from the pecans. Raisins deliver exactly what you expect, sweetness and chewiness, and complete the flavor profile. Sweet, toasty, crunchy, and delicious, I can't imagine a happier companion to my yogurt. Want a more delectable treat? This granola also makes a splendid couple with vanilla ice cream.

Pumpkin Pecan Granola
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
makes about 3 cups

2 1/2 tablespoons canola or extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/3 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup raw pecan pieces
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup crimson or golden raisins or dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pumpkin pie spice, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree and whisk to combine. Add the oats, pecans, and sesame seeds and stir until evenly coated.

3. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet, keeping some of the cluster of oats and nuts intact so that the finished granola will have some chunks. Bake the granola, stirring every so often by scooping the  mixture from the edges of the pan toward the middle and spreading it evenly again, until dry and light brown in color, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the granola to cool a few minutes. Add the raisins and toss to mix. Add another pinch or two of salt if needed. Cool completely before storing. Store in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks.