Kitchen Tips and Tricks: Part 2

Kitchen Tips and Tricks: Part 2

This tip is about Knowing your knife cuts

Most of what I know about knife work comes directly from Food Network circa 2007. That summer I had a fellowship grant from my university, and rather than use the funds to pursue my self-directed research full time, I spent at least half of every week either watching Food Network or testing my newfound skills. What I learned can be summed up in the most common cuts, pictured above, plus some safety tips I picked up along the way.

 

  • Thinly Sliced: This should be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch, depending on how comfortable you are with the knife. The key is even slices so they’ll cook evenly as well. If you find your vegetable/fruit/whatever is too long for your blade, cut it in half or quarters to make it more manageable.

 

  • Rough Chop: Again, the goal is to have pieces around the same size for even cooking, but it likely doesn’t matter much how big or small the pieces are. Just cut through in one direction, turn the slices, and cut in the other to make approximate squares for cooking.

 

  • Fine Dice: There are two ways accomplish this cut, which results in pieces that sort of melt into the final dish: make small knife cuts in one direction and then cut across them into even pieces, or start with a rough chop and then keep chopping, turning the pile of cuttings every once in a while, until you have uniformly small pieces. I usually go with the latter.

 

  • Julienne: Also called matchsticks, you start with your thin slices and then cut them lengthwise into sticks that are about the same width on all sides (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch again). It’s good for a fancy garnish or a stir-fry (although let’s face it, for stir fry you can just stop at slices most of the time).

 

  • Chiffonade: What matchsticks are to hard vegetables, chiffonade is to leafy greens and herbs. Pile up all the leaves you’re using, roll them into a little cigar, and then slice thinly along the roll to get little strips perfect for sprinkling on the top of a finished dish.

 

Some other tips:

  • A sharp knife is a safe knife so keep your knives sharpened. It may sound counter-intuitive, but when your knife is sharp you don’t have to press down much to cut through things, and if you’re not pressing down the knife is less likely to move unexpectedly and chop a finger.

 

  • Keep your fingertips tucked back when slicing. I usually accomplish this by resting most of my nail on what I’m cutting. It means that if get too into the slicing, you’ll end up cutting your knuckle rather than cutting off your fingertip. Neither one is ideal but at least the knuckle can most likely be fixed with a bandage rather than stitches.

 

  • Go slow. It’s super tempting to speed up as you get more confident but going too fast leads to fingers under the blade and that never ends well.
Root Vegetable Latkes

Root Vegetable Latkes

It feel likes we got cheated out of Hanukah this year. It happened so early and then by early December it was gone. There was Thanksgivukkah with its one batch of latkes (and it’s once-in-a-lifetime excitement). And then there were a few days of recuperating from The Biggest Cooking Day of the Year. And then the holiday was over. We only got one batch of latkes in this house.

I’m not one to recommend making holiday-specific foods all year round. I like my seasonal foods in season and that includes things like latkes which aren’t seasonal because of their ingredients. The excitement of anticipation leading up to making and eating holiday treats is part of the fun. If you eat it all year round then what’s there to look forward to? But this year I’m making an exception for latkes, at least for the month of December. And perhaps through New Year’s Day.

This particular latkes recipe came together while I was trying to think up a Thanksgivukkah mashup latke to serve with cranberry applesauce. The addition of celery root makes the latke a little more toothsome. Even the ones on the bottom of the pile that are usually mushy manage to keep their crispness. At the end of Thanksgivukkah we had leftovers of everything except for latkes; they were gone long before people got too full to eat them. Downsized slightly for a winter holiday party, I can’t imagine they’d last any longer.

Root Vegetable Latkes

Ingredients

  • 2 celeriac roots outer layer cut away (it’s too thick to peel)
  • 1 lb potatoes about 2-3 yukon gold will do it, peeled
  • ½ lb parsnips peeled and ends removed
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 eggs*
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • Oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Using a food processor, grate the celeriac, potatoes, and parsnips, then turn them out into large bowl lined with a clean dish cloth. You can grate them by hand but be warned that it is hard and you may lose some skin off your knuckles in the process. Once you have all the gratings, gather up the ends of the dish cloth and twist it to squeeze out the excess liquid in the vegetables, getting rid of as much as you can. Then dump the now dry vegetables back into the large bowl and add the flour, eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix well with your hands to combine.
  2. Heat about a half inch of oil in a large heavy bottomed pan (I like to use cast iron) over medium heat and then line a baking sheet with a grocery-store brown paper bag and top it with a rack. This will prevent ‘soggy bottoms’ while the latkes cool. When it’s hot, form a latke out of about ¼ cup of batter and place it in the pan. You can also make canape sized ones using 2 tbs of batter at a time. To make the latke you can either just gather up the batter (like I do) or gather it up and then squeeze out the liquid again (like Jeff does). The Jeff way will give you a slightly crispier latke but if you, like I, can’t be bothered it doesn’t make too much difference.
  3. Fry the latkes three or four at a time (or 5 at a time for the small ones), cooking them for 2-4 minutes per side, until they’re golden brown on each side. I find that sometimes it helps to twist them around halfway through cooking each side so one half doesn’t get more brown. When they’re done, remove them to the brown-bag lined baking sheet topped with a rack. You can also sprinkle them with a pinch of salt while they’re hot.
  4. Once they’re cool enough to eat you can eat them plain, or top them the traditional way with applesauce and sour cream, or go all out for a fancy party snack with caviar and crème fraiche.

Recipe Notes

If you choose to cut this recipe in half use two eggs and 3 tbs flour in the half batch.

Kitchen Tips and Tricks

Kitchen Tips and Tricks

Tip #1: A spoonful of mustard will brighten up a slow cooked stew.

My dad is a stew man. He’s a fan of any pot of food that makes its own gravy, which can be sopped up with slices of bread one the juice is all that’s left. Or maybe even before, alternating bites of soaked bread with slow cooked meat and vegetables. But that slow cooking process also mutes bright and punchy flavors so that by the time you’re ready to ladle it out everything is a bit flat, a bit one note. It’s a common problem and recipes suggest adding one or another ingredient to liven things up.

Let’s just dismiss all the suggestions that involve cooking or preparing something extra before serving, like some finely minced herbs or lightly sauteed garlic. There are times when I have the patience to do that but in general, stew is something I serve when I’m short on time or energy. The cooking happens days in advance (or weeks if I’ve stashed some in the fridge) and when it’s on the night’s dinner menu mostly I want to just heat it up. Nothing more. The other option for sprucing it up is to add something, either at the beginning or the end of the process, to refresh the flavor.

Adding at the end doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t solve the problem of having a one note dish. The stew becomes too overly tart or acidic to the exclusion of other flavors and you end up with a different version of the same problem. The secret weapon I’ve found over years of trial and error is a spoonful or two of mustard, added to the stew at the beginning of cooking. The strong nose-tingling kick mellows during cooking but it doesn’t disappear entirely. Unlike vinegar or lemon juice which have distinct “cooked” flavors that can be off-putting, mustard tends to cook out into an indefinable yet noticeable brightness that cuts through the rich slow-cooked flavor without unbalancing it. It works for just about every stew recipe I’ve tried and when I leave it out, I notice the difference. Given the negligible extra time it takes and the fact that I always have mustard in the fridge, it’s a no brainer.

The Basic Burger

The Basic Burger

burger chicken

In my vegetarian years I traded over-pressed patties for veggie burgers, most of which had a uniform texture and tough chew reminiscent of what I grew up with. Then a few years ago burgers became a hot menu item. Besides the craze for fast food done slightly better, a la Shake Shack, Five Guys, and In N Out, gourmet versions were everywhere.

They came oozing cheese, stuffed with caramelized onions, served with no fewer than five condiments. They were great and Jeff and I ate them until we could eat no more. But they were never really about the burger. In most of those creations the meat could have been removed entirely without any real change in taste to the meal.

veg burger

There’s certainly a time for the blue cheese and bacon burger with onion rings and barbecue sauce eclipsing the obligatory lettuce. But if I’m making them at home there’s probably not much going on between the buns; lettuce, tomato, something pickled, mustard, maybe some mayo. I make my own patties without the help of any shaping or mushing tools. It’s just salt, pepper, sometimes Worcestershire sauce but usually not, and a light hand. The only pressing is the little divot in the middle, supposedly to prevent the middle from puffing up as it cooks. There’s not much of a recipe below because there’s not really a lot that goes into making a simple burger. It’s what you leave out that makes all the difference.

The Basic Burger

Makes 3-4 burgers

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbs worcestershire sauce optional

Instructions

  1. COMBINE the ground beef with the salt, pepper, and worcestershire (if using) in a large bowl. Loosely toss the mixture together so that the seasoning is evenly distributed. A folding method, similar to incorporating beaten egg whites into a batter, works well here.
  2. DIVIDE the meat into three or four equal portions, depending on how many burgers you’re making.
  3. SHAPE the meat into patties gently, patting it into place with your hands – no need to squeeze. The patties should be a little loose when you’re done and feel like they might fall apart if you’re not careful with them. When you have the shape you want, lightly press a thumb into the center of each patty to create a little divot.
  4. GRILL the patties on a grill set to medium heat – too hot and they will char on the outside before they’re cooked, too low and they won’t get nice caramelized bits. It may take some testing to find how how your grill should be to achieve this. I like to cook mine about 7 minutes on each side, flipping them at the four minute mark so each side gets cooked for a four minute period and a three minute period. If you like your burger closer to medium than rare, add a few extra minutes. You could also cook these in a pan on medium high heat, following the same steps when it comes to timing and flipping. If you don’t use a non-stick pan, grease it a little before cooking. While the burgers will give off some grease as they cook, it won’t be fast enough to lubricate the pan while the first side cooks.
Choosing a Ripe Avocado | How To

Choosing a Ripe Avocado | How To

Avocado buying can be an incredibly frustrating thing. Sometimes you stand there, checking every single avocado, and find that none of them are ripe yet so your afternoon plans of guacamole are ruined. Sometimes you stand there, and can’t figure out which avocados are ripe and which ones are about to turn to mush. And sometimes you think you’ve waited jut long enough for it to ripen on the counter, only to cut it open and find that the inside is more brown than green and it’s well past it’s prime. The truth is, a squishy avocado is not necessarily a ripe avocado. But there’s an easy way to know if your avocados are underripe, past their prime, or ready to eat. The answer is in the stem. Or rather, the answer is under the stem.

A peek under the stem can tell you whether your avocado is along the ripeness spectrum. If you see bright green peeking out and the stem is hard to remove, the avocado isn’t ripe yet. It’s at that annoying stage where it looks ripe when you cut it open but the flesh is still hard and a little waxy. A dark brown or black spot under the stem, with a stem that is falling off or has already fallen off, indicates that the avocado is starting to off, and will probably have at least some brown spots inside. If there are flecks of white mold under there, you’re done for, that avocado is mostly brown inside. But if the stem is pushed out a bit but not falling off and the part under the stem is yellow, or light to medium brown flecked with yellow, it’s just right to eat. The insidewill be bright green on the edges and a deep yellow near the pit, creamy and soft all the way through. Once it reaches that stage, put the avocado in the fridge if you’re not eating it right away. It will slow the ripening and help your fruit last longer.

A word of caution on all this checking: once you take out the stem, that leaves an open spot for the avocado to go bad. That bit you see under the stem is just like any other part of an avocado, it will start to brown in the open air and that browning will slowly spread to the rest of the fruit. If you take out the stem to check an avocado, put it back unless you plan to cut into it within a few hours. And if you see avocados at the store without their stem, buy them at your own risk. Once the stem is out, that spot under it will turn dark brown or black within a few hours and you have no way to know what the fruit underneath looks like.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Dressing

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Dressing

There are some foods that only get made once a year or worse yet, only once. Not the bad foods that no one wanted to eat in the first place but the good things that were made for a special occasion and then never thought of again. These mustard-dressed Brussels sprouts* were almost one of them. I made them for Thanksgiving two years ago. They were delicious, everyone enjoyed them, I mourned a little when they were finished, but then that was it. I didn’t make them again all year.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

But the next Thanksgiving someone asked for them. Then someone else did. I make a lot of things and people often enjoy the food in the moment but rarely does someone love it enough to ask for it. When it’s two someones you know you have to find a way to make that dish again.

Given my weird love of vegetables as a child, I came to Brussels sprouts very late in life. They never crossed my plate growing up but as an adult, I love seeing the Jack-and-the-beanstalk way they grow when you can get them still on the stalk. Golden brown on one side from a quick roast in the oven is still the easiest way to enjoy them but for Thanksgiving I pulled out all the stops put in slightly more effort.

Part of what makes this dish so good for those months when Brussels sprouts are around is that it is tangy and sweet and salty all at once. Too many fall dishes are heavy and rich which is great except I find myself craving other flavors, like this mustard-rich dressing. It doesn’t hurt that the entire dish takes about a half hour to put together and can be made ahead and kept in its separate pieces until you’re ready to eat.

The original recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine but I took the liberty of upgrading it. Most importantly, the shredded Brussels sprouts are pan fried, not blanches. In most circumstances, boiling is just not as delicious as the golden brown edges you get from pan frying or roasting. For shredded Brussels sprouts there’s nothing lost and a whole lot gained by avoiding blanching in favor of pan frying.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

If you don’t have a mandoline (or a food processer with a shredder blade), the hardest part about this recipe is the chopping. If you do have a mandoline, the hardest part is the cleanup. And that’s still one bowl, one pan, and a piece of foil. If that’s not the perfect recipe, especially for Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Candied Nuts and Mustard Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ -2 lbs Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tbs fat divided into four ½ tbs (butter, oil, rendered bacon fat, your choice)
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard whole grain or not, both are delicious
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup good quality oil for dressing
  • 2 cups whole nuts almonds, pecan halves, walnuts, hazelnuts, they all work
  • ½ cup honey**
  • 1 tbs oil
  • 1 tbs plus 2 tsp kosher salt divided

Instructions

  1. Shred the Brussels sprouts either with a mandoline or by slicing them very thinly with a knife until you reach the bottom quarter-inch of the sprout; discard that. If you cut them with a knife, cut the sprouts in half first so they lay flat on the board while you do the thin slicing. It will help keep your fingers safe.
  2. Heat a wide-bottomed pan over medium heat. Divide the shredded Brussels sprouts in to four or six equal portions depending on how large your pan is. Divide the fat into the same number of portions and add one portion to the pan. When it’s melted, add one portion of Brussels sprouts, spread it over the pan evenly, and cook for 3-5 minutes without disturbing the sprouts. When they’re brown on the edges give them a stir, season with a sprinkle of salt and take them out of the pan. Then return the pan to the heat and repeat those steps until all the sprouts are cooked. It should take the 2 tablespoons of fat and the tablespoon of salt.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment of foil. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the nuts, honey, 1 tablespoon of oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt and mix well. Spread the coated-nuts onto the lines pan and bake for about 5 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them cool completely. Then peel them off the paper/foil (easier to get them off paper) and store them until needed.
  4. In a small bowl or jar, combine the mustard, vinegar, ¼ of high quality oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Whisk or shake to combine the ingredients – the large amount of mustard should help make a good emulsion.***
  5. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to eat, toss the Brussels sprouts with the dressing. Right before serving, add the nuts to the dish – if you plan to eat some of it as leftovers, save some nuts for later. If you store with them the salad they’ll end up a little soft. Eat warm, room temperature, or cold. The leftovers last for up to a week if you can make it last that long.

Recipe Notes

Why yes, you always capitalize the ‘B’ in Brussels sprouts. It’s named after a place don’t you know? You didn’t ? Neither did I until I started wondering why auto-correct couldn’t deal with the lower case ‘b.’

This is one substitution I would unmake if I still lived on the East Coast. The original recipe uses maple syrup to candy the nuts. Living in California, I don’t have much access to good quality maple syrup and it’s much easier to get good quality honey. If you are lucky enough to live in a place with excellent maple syrup it’s an excellent choice here.

You don’t need this much dressing for the dish – I generally only use about half in the recipe. BUT it is worth making all of it because it is delicious and tangy and keeps forever and tastes delicious on just about every salad.

Ratatouille Pie | The Year Of Pie

Ratatouille Pie | The Year Of Pie

Ratatouille-Pie

Ratatouille-Pie

There’s no garden outside my apartment, although I do have a sunflower growing on my back deck that I’m hoping will produce at least one bloom. In the past I made an effort with tomatoes and there was one chile pepper plant, but none of them ever produced anything because summer doesn’t really come to San Francisco and it wasn’t hot enough for them to ripen. The deck isn’t large enough for a garden anyway, and my black thumb doesn’t help matters at all. But I still want zucchini and tomatoes and peppers during the summer, even if I can’t grow them myself.

Ratatouille-Pie

I’ve always kind of wanted to make the ratatouille from the Pixar movie – thinly sliced vegetables, delicately overlapping each other while they cook in a shallow white pan. But in the summer, when the vegetables are actually ready, I don’t have the patience to stand and slice thin thin thin pieces and then carefully layer them around the edge of a pan (plus I don’t have an oval baking dish).  If it’s not being cooked on the grill, I want to spend my time doing something else and letting the food take care of itself. The weather is cool enough that I can put a pan in the oven and forget about it. So I made pie. Surprise?

Ratatouille-Pie

Chunky roasted vegetables nestle down in a cornmeal crust with some goat cheese to bind it all together. The first time I roasted the vegetables with some cloves of garlic, but then the next time I forgot. The same way that the first time I used parsley in the pie and the second time I used scallions instead because that was what I found in the crisper drawer. It was good either way.

Ratatouille Pie

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 stick butter cold and cut into small cubes
  • Up to ¼ cup cold milk or water
  • 1 lb roma tomatoes about 3 tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces
  • ¾ lb zucchini or summer squash halved and cut into one inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1 lb bell peppers seeds removed and cut into 1 inch pieces (about 1½ cups)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic peeled and cut in half
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • optional: ¼ cup chopped parsley or scallion
  • 3 oz goat cheese about ½ cup pre crumbled goat cheese

Instructions

  1. PREHEAT the oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment and grease a 9-inch tart pan.
  2. TOSS tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, yellow squash, and peppers with salt and oil, and arrange them on a foil or parchment lined baking sheet. Make sure there's some space between the vegetables so they roast rather than steaming. You might need two baking trays for this, but you can put them both in the oven at the same time.
  3. ROAST the vegetables for 30 minutes, stirring once at the halfway mark. Remove when the vegetables are browned and have given off some of their moisture.
  4. DECREASE the oven temperature to 375.
  5. MIX the flour, cornmeal, butter, and salt together and work the butter in until the pieces are no bigger than peas. Add the milk, or water, a tablespoon at a time and stir until it just forms a crumbly dough. You may not need all the liquid for it to come together into crumbs (it's doesn't need to form a whole crust at this point). Dump the dough into the tart pan and press is in to the bottom and up the sides to form the crust. Then stick the crust in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  6. COMBINE roasted vegetables in a bowl with the thyme, parsley and/or scallions (if using), and about ⅔ of the goat cheese. Stir well.
  7. PARBAKE the crust at 375 for about 10 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 350, pour in the vegetable mixture and sprinkle the remaining goat cheese on top.
  8. BAKE the pie for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the goat cheese is slightly browned on top. Let it cool for 10 minutes and then serve warm.
  9. The leftovers are good cold and will last in the fridge for about a week, but the crust suffers a bit after a few days. This makes an excellent light dinner when served with a salad, or the side to some roasted chicken if you're seeking a heartier meal.

Recipe Notes

This pie is not a quick-and-easy dinner but the steps can easily be done over the course of a few days - one day to roast the vegetables and make the crust, and one day to bake everything off. Or you can make a day of it and serve it on a weekend.

Lemon Thyme Sugar Cookies

Lemon Thyme Sugar Cookies

Lately, I spend my Wednesday nights searching for cookie recipes. It’s become something of a ritual. I pull cookbooks off the shelves, pile them up on the table, or around the couch, or on the bed, and then begin flipping. There are a lot of requirements. It has to be different from the ones I made last week, not require crazy ingredients that I’ll have to try find on Thursday morning; it can’t be too complicated or require a lot of assembly (no sandwich cookies please). Plus, it has to be impressive because, I’ll be honest here, I’m pretty proud of my cookie baking skills and any recipe I choose has to show them off. We all have our vanities, right?

LEMON THYME SUGAR COOKIES

LEMON THYME SUGAR COOKIES

My audience isn’t very picky. The cookies – researched Wednesday night and baked on Thursday morning – go to my Thursday night Frisbee team. They’re distributed at the end of the game when everyone is a little winded and hungry from missing dinner. No one but me really cares if the cookies are the same every week or if they come from a break-and-bake package or even if they’re there. It’s a nice bonus to cap off a game but not really a mandatory treat (although at this point I might have made it one).

LEMON THYME SUGAR COOKIES

LEMON THYME SUGAR COOKIES

Mostly cookies are a way to say thanks. In this case it’s “thanks for showing up” but I’ve baked them to say “thanks for inviting me,” “thanks for your help,” and “thanks for being there.” I mean, what’s better than edible appreciation?

The goal here is a crowd pleaser. Chocolate is a good idea, so are tried-and-true recipes where you know the results will turn out well. And avoiding bitter or herbal flavors, which can be hit or miss, seems like a no-brainer. But when I came across this cookie recipe I threw all of that out the window. Swapped chocolate for lemon, threw in some thyme, and made a relatively soft sugar cookie that seemed like it might not roll properly. The outcome? Maybe the best cookie of the season. So far, of course.

LEMON THYME SUGAR COOKIES

This Recipe is adapted from Lauren’s Latest Lemon Crinkle Cookies (Thanks to White on Rice Couple for leading me to this recipe).

Lemon Thyme Sugar Cookies

Ok, this recipe ended up being easy but it had some of those “oh man this will never work moments.” First, the dough is very very soft. So soft I thought it wouldn’t roll properly into little balls like it’s supposed to. But it will if you just dunk it in powdered sugar. Never fear. Also, my cookies never got the lovely crinkle that Lauren’s seemed too; maybe because I didn’t use as much powdered sugar? But the flavor was great so I probably won’t up the sugar next time. I might add more thyme though. These were more hint-of-thyme than full on lemon and thyme and while it was a good choice for a post-Frisbee snack, in other settings more thyme would be a great choice.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 stick 1/2 cup of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Zest of 1 lemon about 1 tsp
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon about 2 tbs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract optional but really adds to the flavor
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line two cookie sheets with parchment or foil. This makes a lot of cookies so you’ll probably need to bake in batches and having two pans ready to go makes this easier and less time consuming.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix to combine and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl if you’re using an hand mixer, combine the butter and the two sugars and mix on medium speed until fully creamed, lightened in color, and fluffy. This should take at least 3 minutes. Then add the egg, lemon juice and zest, and extracts and continue to mix on medium until well combined. Turn the speed down to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until not quite combined, then turn the machine off and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Give it the last few stirs by hand and then put the bowl aside.
  4. Mix the thyme with the powdered sugar and spread it out onto a place. I sifted this mixture but it didn’t really seem worth the time and effort. Feel free to sift if your powdered sugar is very lumpy.
  5. Using two teaspoons, scoop out about two teaspoons of dough, slightly smaller than a ping pong ball and drop it in the powdered sugar mixture. Roll the dough in the powdered sugar and then roll it around in your hands to get rid of the excess. Place the finished cookie on the baking sheet and repeat until the sheet is full. You want to leave about 2 inches between each cookie. I managed to get a dozen on each sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned and the tops are no longer shiny and wet looking. They won’t necessarily look fully baked on top when done so use the sides to judge brownness.
  7. Let them cool on the sheet for a few minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack to hang out until they’re fully cooled. Since they’re so soft I’d guess they’ll go stale pretty quickly; you probably will only get a few days out of them. But they were all gone with 12 hours so no promises on that one.
Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo Chicken Dip

We were supposed to talk about something else today; a follow up with the talk of salad dressing. But things happened, life gets busy, you run out of ingredients. Or, in this case, your team gets into the Super Bowl and then you really need to step up your party offerings.

Ok, calling the San Francisco 49ers my  team is a bit of a fib. I only live here and I don’t care much about football. Someone took pity and explained the rules to me in high school but between than and now I’ve mainly only watched the Super Bowl. Which, besides being the national football holiday and the national commercial holiday, is also the national snack holiday. You can understand why I had to scrap the salad in favor of a Super Bowl appropriate dish.

It had to have buffalo sauce. In college, I was in Buffalo, New York with a group and we got take out from the Anchor Bar where the buffalo wing was invented and ate them in big greasy piles in our hotel room since we couldn’t actually go to the bar. I didn’t even eat any, I was a vegetarian then, but the smell was amazing. I loved it, breathed it in.

The next day the hotel room stank – stank – of buffalo sauce. The tangy, spicy, buttery scent got into everything and I still loved it. Last year, I just about drowned in buffalo wings as a friend and I made batch after batch after batch. It was heaven; it was messy; it was a lot of work. So I translated buffalo wings into a more make-ahead-friendly, won’t-interrupt-the-game-or-commercial-watching dip. But it’s not the buffalo chicken dip you’re thinking of.

This is less like the thick bright orange slick of sour cream and canned chicken that most people call buffalo dip and more like the 7-layer dip my family always made for eating-centric holidays. The layers give it texture which, whether you notice it or not, is a big part of why what you eat tastes good or not good. If everything feels the same it bores your mouth and no matter how good the flavors are, it takes away from the deliciousness. Why not give yourself every advantage in the who-made-the-best-dish contest … I mean, it’s not a contest … I mean, you want to win right?

Buffalo Chicken Dip

There are things labeled buffalo sauce that you can buy in the supermarket – Frank’s Red Hot is my preference – but at it’s core buffalo sauce is a vinegary hot sauce mixed with butter. Since we aren’t coating wings, I’ve kept the butter to a minimum and used it to cook the chicken and made my own buffalo sauce by adding 1 tbs of white vinegar – the sharp stuff – to 1/4 cup of hot sauce. For a more vinegary kick just up the proportion of vinegar to hot sauce.

Ingredients

For the ranch sour cream base:

  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 2 tbs garlic powder I find fresh garlic a little too pungent in ranch dressing
  • 1/2 tbs dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbs buttermilk powder*
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

For the buffalo chicken layer:

  • 1 1/2 lb ground chicken or turkey
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2/3 cup buffalo sauce divided into two 1/3 measurements
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp paprika**

For the other layers:

  • 1/2 iceberg lettuce finely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 4-5 scallions finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles; Gorgonzola is traditional but use your favorite or whatever’s on sale. This is not the time to break out the fancy cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled bacon***

Instructions

  1. The ranch sour cream: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. You can use a stand mixer or electric mixer for this step if you like although it doesn’t take too much time to get everything mixed together by hand. Set this aside.
  2. The buffalo chicken: In a nonstick pan big enough to brown the chicken/turkey (you need more surface area to allow for browning), melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the chicken/turkey and salt and cook until there are only a few spots of pink left, about 10 minutes, then add 1/3 cup of buffalo sauce to the pan. Cook the mix for another 5-10 minutes until the chicken/turkey has absorbed some of the sauce and is brown in a few spots. Drain any remaining liquid from the chicken/turkey and transfer it to a bowl or back to the pan (off the heat). Stir in as much of the remaining 1/3 cup of buffalo sauce as you like along with the paprika and stir the mixture well to evenly coat all the chicken/turkey. The end result should taste a little stronger and spicier than you would eat on it’s own because the dairy is going to dampen some of the spice.
  3. To assemble: In a 9 by 9 pan, spread the ranch sour cream along the bottom to form a smooth flat base layer. Then layer on the buffalo chicken in an even layer. Sprinkle on the lettuce shreds, followed by the scallions, and then the bleu cheese. Top the dip with bacon crumbles (if you’re using them) and then let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes so the layers can meld a bit. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
  4. All the layers can be made/chopped/crumbled ahead of time and kept in separate container in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Then quickly layer them together and have at it, preferably with some chips and celery sticks.

Recipe Notes

I keep buttermilk powder around so that I always have buttermilk easily on hand and in this case the powder adds some buttermilk flavor without thinning out the base layer. But you could add 1/4 cup of buttermilk and change the ratios so you have 12 oz of sour cream and 12 oz of cream cream to keep the same texture.

The one downside to making your own buffalo sauce is that it won’t have that shockingly artificial orange color. I use paprika to give the buffalo chicken more color but if you don’t like the flavor it adds, feel free to omit it.

Nope, bacon is not a traditional part of buffalo chicken wings. But a) it certainly isn’t bad and b) the Super Bowl party I’m attending is bacon themed. How could I not gild the lily for that?

Chicken and Biscuits Pie | The Year of Pie

Chicken and Biscuits Pie | The Year of Pie

When I originally came up with the Year of Pie, making a chicken pot pie was an obvious choice. Except for one serious issue: I’ve already written about a few chicken pies. It’s not that uncommon that I have a general idea without a recipe attached. I took a look at some cookbooks, did a search on the Internet, looked through The Flavor Bible to see what goes with chicken. That last part  was a mistake, since just about every savory thing goes with chicken. So I asked Jeff about what kind of chicken pie I should make this time. I should have already known the answer.

The answer, which he arrived at immediately, was to use a biscuit crust because who doesn’t love biscuits? He had a valid point, and I started imagining chicken and vegetables in a peppery milk gravy. A sort of breakfast meets dinner meal. But going through the logistics of how to make it, I remembered the last biscuit crust I’d tried. It was this recipe, which I then adapted into summer tomato pie recipe and looking at my recipe, the biscuit crust did not survive the adaptation. Turns out, I kind of hate biscuit crust.

Sigh. Biscuit crust is one of those things that sounds really great until you try to make it, at which point you realize that biscuit dough wants nothing to do with being rolled out. Its sticks to everything. It’s delicious, but that doesn’t mean I want to wrestle with it in order to have dinner. And I don’t want to deal with the rolling-it-out-between-two-pieces-of-plastic-wrap, which is the solution that Gourmet came up with years ago. Nope. Not worth it.

But I was still really into this idea of chicken and biscuits pie. I’m generally into any version of chicken pot pie because 1) pie crust and 2) gravy. And I’m also into the idea of biscuits and milk-gravy, which is sadly mostly available at breakfast time when I’d rather be eating pancakes. I couldn’t give up on a dinner of chicken pie plus biscuits and gravy.

“Can I just put biscuits on top of the pie filling and call it pie,” I asked Jeff, “even if it doesn’t have a bottom crust?” He shrugged and said sure, because he doesn’t worry if it’s still chicken pie even if it doesn’t have a bottom crust. But I worry about stuff like that. As it turns out, I was worrying needlessly because Ina Garten makes her chicken pot pie with only a top crust. And if it’s good enough for Ina, it’s certainly good enough for me. Oh man, it’s good.

I expected the chicken and biscuits pie to be a good idea, but it was really good. Fluffy biscuits, peppery creamy gravy, and only one hour of your time. No unwieldy biscuit wrestling required.

Chicken and Biscuits Pie

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 31 minutes
Total Time 51 minutes
Servings 4 People

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 lb boneless and skinless chicken thighs cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 lb frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 medium onion halves and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley optional, for serving

For the crust (see note):

  • 4 cups all purpose flour plus more for sprinkling your work surface and hands
  • ½ tbs kosher salt
  • ½ tbs baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 sticks butter cold and cut into pieces
  • cups milk

Instructions

  1. HEAT the butter and oil in a large oven-proof pan (cast-iron or stainless steel are great here) over medium heat. Add the chicken and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and cook it for about 3-4 minutes, until it's browned on at least one side, but still pink in the middle.

  2. ADD the sliced onions to the pan and cook them until they become translucent, another 3-4 minutes. Then add the frozen mixed vegetables with an additional ½ tsp kosher salt, and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, until the vegetables are fully defrosted.

  3. SPRINKLE the flour over the top of the vegetables and stir until the flour is all dissolved into the pan. Cook it for an additional 1-2 minutes to cook out the flour taste. Then add the milk slowly and continue to stir to ensure there aren't any lumps. Season the pie filling with salt and lots of pepper and turn off the heat.

  4. PREHEAT the oven to 425F

  5. COMBINE flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Add the butter pieces and work it with your fingers until the butter pieces are no bigger than peas.

  6. ADD the milk and stir gently until it just starts to come together as a dough. If you squeeze a piece in your hand it should hold together well but it doesn't have to be a solid mass.

  7. TURN OUT the dough onto a floured surface and pat it into a uniform shape that is about ¾ inch thick.

  8. CUT circles (or any other shape) out of the dough to form individual biscuits, about 2 inches in diameter (or across). You'll probably get have to reshape the scraps once to get about 10 biscuits.

  9. ARRANGE the biscuits on the prepared filling and stick the whole pan in the oven to bake for 15-18 minutes, until the biscuits are browned on top. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the parsley (if using), and serve while it's still hot.

Recipe Notes

This recipe can be made even easier if you use a store bought biscuit dough. No one will judge you for it, and you can always lie and say you made the biscuits from scratch if they do. I won't give away your secret.

This pie is best served hot, although it reheats well and you can keep the leftovers for about a week in the fridge.