Category Archives: Sides

Thai Cabbage Salad

cabbage.salad.3

Sometimes words come easily. They fall together in my head at the most unrelated of moments: while I’m driving, cleaning, shopping. I mutter them under my breath hoping that by spitting them into the air these words won’t disappear.  Sometimes though, they do not surface so effortlessly. I have, unfortunately, been in this latter stage for the better part of six months. My brain is dried like a raisin by the end of the day when I have a moment to stop. Instead of powering through, it shuts down. Off. Chau. Nos vemos. It can barely process T.V. much less compose a post.

So, while I have actually been cooking quite a bit, I have been posting approximately not at all. My recent kitchen adventures have included persimmon bread, chocolate cake, ginger muffins, frascatelli, and a whole roasted chicken. Yes, I have cooked all of this and shared none with you. Scandalous, I’m well aware. Equally as scandalous is this: I have fallen in love with the salad section of the new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I’ll admit, when I first cracked open the book, I skipped straight to dessert. Feeling the need for a post Christmas health kick though, I soon decided to turn to the dreaded salad section. Now, let’s be real, the salad section is never exciting. It’s the part of a cookbook you look at through forced obligation, because 1. it’s pretty much illegal to skip over any section of a cookbook and 2. you can’t live off of brownies and cake and ice cream, or you could, but shouldn’t.

I surprised myself by mentally bookmarking a number of the salad recipes, including the Vinegar Slaw with Cucumber and Dill. For some reason though, unbeknownst to me, when I went grocery shopping for the ingredients to make the salad, dill was sold out. Who knew dill was a high demand ingredient in the dead of winter? “Fine,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just use lemongrass. Close enough, right?”. Um, no. With lemongrass sitting on my kitchen counter though, I began to chop and mix and stir liberally adjusting the original recipe. I added thai chili pepper for kick, garlic because why not, lemon juice for a fresh acidity, and sesame oil for a subtle nutty flavoring. Then I called it “Thai Cabbage Salad”. I’m not sure it actually qualifies as “Thai”, but it does qualify as tasty, that much I can say with certainty.

cabbage.salad.1Thai Cabbage Salad

Inspired by The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Makes enough for 12

1 medium hear green cabbage (about 2 pounds), cored and thinly sliced or shredded

1 large seedless or English cucumber (about 1 pound), sliced in round discs as thinly as possible

2 tablespoons lemongrass, finely chopped

2 Thai chili pepper, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely diced

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons kosher salt

4 teaspoon sugar

Toss the cabbage, cucumber and lemongrass together in a large bowl. Whisk the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour the liquid over the salad, and let it marinate, tossing the cabbage occasionally. After 1 hour, it should be a bit wilted and crunchy, at 2 hours, the flavor is even better.

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Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Sometimes I fall into a funk of complaining. My job is so hard. I have no clue what I’m doing with my life. Etc, etc, etc. It is at these moments that I need a subtle reminder of just how beautiful the people who surround me really are. Just how lucky I am. Tonight was one of those reminders. Nothing spectacular. A friend’s concert. Catching up. Drinks. That’s just it though, beauty lies in the commonplace, but in the commonplace it also all too often hides. Thank you to my friends and family whose encouraging words, whose endless supports, whose comforting hugs have become so commonplace I forget they are a luxury not everyone is privy to. Thank you. Times one million. Thank you.

This has little to do with my cheese here, unless you count me owing a huge thank you to Nancy Silverton, author of this recipe, for opening my eyes to the world of homemade ricotta. Clearly my jumping from one idea to the next in this post proves my thoughts are a muddled mess, with one notable exception…my thoughts about this cheese. Let me tell you what I thought: Making cheese would be hard. Now let me tell you what I found out: It’s not. In fact, it’s so easy and so full of flavor, I have no intention of ever buying ricotta at the store again. It’s a waste of my money. Really. A gigantic waste. So, here’s to friends, family, and homemade cheese. Forever.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

from the Mozza Cookbook

Combine 4 cups whole milk, 1 cup cream, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in a saucepan and bring just to a boil without stirring. Immediately remove pan from heat.

Let mixture stand for 15 minutes at room temperature. As time passes, the curds will begin to separate from the whey. If only a few curds form, your lemon may not be acidic enough; add another 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, gently stir so you don’t break up the curds too much, and let stand for 5 minutes more.

Using a large spoon (not slotted) or measuring cup, spoon curds into a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a large bowl. At this point, transfer cheese to an airtight container or continue draining in the refrigerator. (I tied my cheesecloth to a chopstick and set it over a cup to continue draining. While this is not necessary, I found that the cheese that I continued to drain in the refrigerator was much more flavorful and dense than the cheese I immediately transfered to an airtight container. Take your pick.)

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Reflections on an Epic Journey, Part 1: Mango Salad

You know you’re in love when you can’t get someone out of your mind, when you miss them every minute of everyday. When you heart beats faster at the sound of their voice, when you smile at the sight of their picture, when all you want to do is take in their scent and lie in their arms, you know you’re in love. My friends, in love I am.

Chocolate Cake and Pinol from Choco Museo Cafe. Antigua, Guatemala. 

As I’ve meandered through Central America – from the beaches of Panama, through the forests of Costa Rica, to the pueblos of Guatemala – this love has been all-consuming. My hands have been begging for the touch of a wooden spoon, my nose dying for a whiff of homemade chocolate chip cookies being pulled from the oven. My eyes have been yearning for the mere glimpse of a spice cabinet and my ears waiting in anxious anticipation for the gentle clap of kneading bread on a countertop. It is the timeless act of cooking with which I am in love. Beware future men in my life, you’ll have to compete with whisks and sauce pans for my attention.

My journey was, of course, driven by food. I fended off the piropos of Panama City to buy the freshest ceviche I have ever eaten. Really, the boat the shrimp came off of…I saw it. I hiked up a small mountain to find the best coffee Costa Rica has to offer. Despite loads of sunscreen and a scarf wrapped around my head babushka style (Yes, I looked hilarious. No, there are not pictures), I still managed to get sunburned. I roamed the streets of Guatemala sampling every kind of street food I could get my hands on. Miraculously, I didn’t get sick.

Preparing fried chicken at the biweekly market. Chichicastenango, Guatemala. 

My food adventures, however, did not lessen my longing for my kitchen. I dreamt of spending a day consumed by cooking. It would start as one of those quiet days. I would wake up early and lie in bed with the sunlight softly falling on my covers as I drifted in and out of sleep. It would unfold flawlessly. Grocery shopping at the finest markets. Eating a simple lunch. Cooking the afternoon away to the tune of Jack Johnson. Eating (again) dinner with my parents around the dining room table. Tidying the kitchen quickly yet calmly. Then, finally, falling asleep as I pondered breakfast the next morning. Perhaps steel cut oats with strawberry jam and a sprinkle of lemon zest.

I have dreamt of this day for three weeks and on my first full day back in the States, Friday, that day came. It happened to be a little more chaotic than I imagined, but hey, that’s life. I’ll take what I can get.

The results of my cooking class at El Frijol Feliz. Antigua, Guatemala.

I had a lot of time to think on my adventure. Probably too much. Among my many realizations or, perhaps more accurately, reaffirmations, was this one: I take advantage of the small things (and the big things actually too…um, that roof over my head…) in life far too often. As a token of my appreciation for all the big and small things they’ve given me, I wanted to prepare a dinner for my parents inspired by my travels. This, of course, in no way makes up for all those years of supporting me. Just think of all those dirty diapers changed, clothes washed, and meals cooked. Not to mention agonizing band concerts attended and countless softball games endured. And then there’s the whole paying for all of that…Regardless, I made dinner. A dinner inspired by Guatemala to be exact. We started with this very mango dish.

Apparently I caught the tail end of mango season in Guatemala, and thank goodness I did. Every morning and afternoon the central road of Panajachel, where I stayed for a week taking Spanish classes, was filled with men and women selling ripe, juicy mangos. For five quetzales, or the equivalent of about sixty-five cents, I would get an entire mango sliced and arranged neatly in a tiny plastic bag. Their mangos, for the record, are not like our imported mangos. No, no. They’re twice as big. We clearly get the shaft. You could chose to eat it simple, or plain, but I always noshed on mine with salt, ground pepitas, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Some kind of chile powder or cayenne pepper was occasionally an option as well. The recipe below is essentially a table friendly version of this glorious “mango in a bag”, which has now traveled from the streets of Guatemala to my house in Chicago. What a journey it was.

Pepian, a traditional Guatemalan dish, prepared at El Frijol Feliz. Antigua, Guatemala. 

Mango Salad

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack (midday and midnight), you name the time and this dish will fit the occasion. It’s nice to have something so versatile (and easy!) in your cooking repetoire, isn’t it? Feel free to add chili powder or cayenne pepper if desired. Grind the pepitas as finely as you like. I used a mortar and pestle grinding mine to about the texture of table salt.

Serves 4 

2 mangos, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 teaspoons lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Fine grain sea salt, to taste

2 teaspoons pepitas, ground

In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredient. Stir gently. Sprinkle pepitas over the mango just before serving.

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Coconut Oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes

In the past month it seems that all people have been telling me is how worried they’ll be while I’m traversing Central America. At first, I brush it off. “Oh mom, nothing will happen.” Next, I started to worry. “Oh no. Something could happen.” Then, I got annoyed. “Ay, dios mío. I’ve already reassured everyone. Nothing. Will. Happen.” Finally, I realized people worry because they care.

Based on the shear number of people expressing concern, I have a lot of people worrying about me and a lot of people caring. It often is far too easy to lose sight of just how lucky this makes me. If find myself stressing out about money, comparing myself to other peoples’ successes,…And then my mom comes home with springform pan because she saw it on sale and knew I’d been wanting one. And Becca invites me over to make homemade lemon-goat cheese ravioli because, even though she doesn’t like lemon, she knows I do. And Paul calls me because he marked in his calendar my departure date and wanted to say hi-bye. After all that, a lightbulb goes off reminding me that people, people make life beautiful. They’re why I’m excited to travel and why I’ll be just as excited to come home.

And, they’re why I cook. Admittedly, I cook for myself too. It’s my chance to relax, my chance to let my creative side out of its cage to breath. Sharing the food I make with other people though – whether it be writing about it on this blog or digging into it at the dinner table – is always the most rewarding part of the process. It’s the icing on the cake so to speak.

So here, once again, I’m sharing sweet potatoes with you. They come from the New York Times and my beloved Melissa Clark. (She writes for the New York Times in addition to penning some of my favorite cookbooks. Have I told you? And have I told you the dining section of the Times is AWESOME?! As a forewarning though, you only get twenty free articles a month on the Times’ website. Click away carefully.) The coconut oil lends these tender, roasted nuggets a tropical nuttiness. They make the perfect main dish for lunch of snack around midnight. I imagine serving them alongside a piece of citrus glazed white fish or on top of a salad with nuts and apples. Read about them. Make them. And eat them, but save some to share.

Coconut Oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes

adapted (barely) from the New York Times

There are a number of different directions to take the spice combination in this recipe. The original called for brown sugar, nutmeg, and black pepper. Cilantro, chili powder, and paprika would all be nice additions to my variation following the recipe. Olive oil can also be substituted for the coconut oil, but I highly recommend giving the coconut a shot. Finally, peel the sweet potatoes if you’d like. I love the skin and prefer to leave mine on though.

Serves 2 to 4

1 1/2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil

1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes), cut into 1/2-inch chunks

2 teaspoons light brown sugar, packed

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat.

In a large bowl, toss together potatoes, coconut oil, sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Spread the potatoes in an even layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 1 hour.

Variation: Omit the brown sugar, black pepper, and grated nutmeg. Add 1 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper. After removing the sweet potatoes from the oven sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon lime zest over the top. These have some kick to them so, if you’re spice averse, consider toning the cumin and cayenne down by a 1/4 teaspoon each.

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Slow Cooked Black Kale with Stewed Garlic

These pictures are products of my new camera. That’s right, no more point and shoot camera for this food blogger. I’ve moved into the big leagues and am now equipped with a DSLR camera. Please bear with me. The pictures might look just like those from my little Sony Cybershot until I get some practice under my belt and start to really learn about lighting, composition, etc. Friends, family, and strangers, get ready to be the victims of my practicing! (I think I’ve already improved since I started this blog. Right? Could be my eyes just tricking me? I do think I need a new contact prescription…).

Enough about my new toy, now is time for kale talk. I’ve already promoted this Vegetable God, ironically, in this post for Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips. While it’s nutritional benefits have not changed in the past month, my aversion to it has. So to all those kale haters out there (or to all of those who are thinking, “What the *&$% is kale?”), give it another try (or a first try). Then stick with it. Try it sauteed with lemon and garlic. Try it raw and mixed with mashed avocado, diced red onion, and a dash of cumin. Try it baked in the oven with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt to create the ultimate healthy snack, kale chips. Try it. I’m currently attempting to give new fruits and vegetables I claim to dislike or have never dared to cook, a try. Join me. My current project is beets. So far I’ve been unsuccessful. Lets consider them a work in progress.

This kale recipe comes from Andrea Reusing, the same Andrea Reusing who gave us these Whole Roasted Onions. Like those onions, this recipe is a snap to prepare. Perhaps more importantly, it offers a powerful punch of flavor despite its short list of ingredients. The olive oil, garlic, chile, lemon combination offers a complexity that doesn’t overshadow the kale flavor, but rather complements it in a surprisingly beautiful way. Have I convinced you to put kale at the center of your plate tonight? Or at least as a substantial side? One can only hope.

Slow-Cooked Kale with Stewed Garlic

adapted from Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment

The only substantial change I would suggest is reducing the amount of oil. I used the three tablespoons and found it to be a bit too much. That being said, I tend to not like a ton of oil. Take that as you will.

Serves 4 to 6

2 bunches (about 1 pound) of black kale (also known as Lacinato or dinosaur kale), stemmed and torn into big pieces

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

1/2 small dried ancho chile, or to taste, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over heat. Salt it generously, add the kale, and blanch for 1 minute. Drain immediately and squeeze out excess water.

Return the pot to the stove over low heat; add olive oil and garlic, season with a pinch of salt, and cook gently for 3 to 5 minutes, until the garlic is soft but not browned. Add the chile and let it lightly toast for a moment before adding the kale and lemon zest. Season with another pinch of salt.

Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occassionally and adding a tablespoon or two of water as needed to keep it slightly moist.

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Crispy Roasted Cabbage and Whole Roasted Onion with Crème Fraîche

The title of this post may be confusing. I do not mean Roasted Cabbage and Onion. As in, the two in the same dish. No I mean Roasted Cabbage. One recipe. And Roasted Onion. Second recipe. I promised a vegetable post way back here and now I’m giving it to you in a double dosage.

You’ve already heard me profess my love for Melissa Clark, who brings us this cabbage recipe, about a million times. I’ll spare you this once and simply say, try this cabbage recipe. That’s right, I’m telling you to cook cabbage after St. Patrick’s Day. With good reason though, because this cabbage is not your typically mushy, flavorless, slapped on a plate next to corned beef cabbage. This cabbage, as its title would suggest, maintains a crisp texture that would lend itself nicely to a warm salad (bacon, blue cheese, and apple anyone?). It’s flavor though – smoky from the browned outer leaves yet ever so sweet from the roasting – makes this cabbage a side dish that could easily stand on its own.

But enough about cabbage. Since I’ve promised not to rave about Melissa Clark, I’ll rave about Andrea Reusing and her cookbook, Cooking in the Moment instead. Reusing emphasizes local, seasonal cooking drawing on her experience as a home cook and as chef-owner of North Carolina’s Lantern. Divided into seasons, the book walks us through the year dwelling on asparagus and mushrooms in the spring, cherries and tomatoes in the summer, sweet potatoes and apples in the fall, and citrus and root vegetables in the winter.

For meat lovers out there, never fear. The cookbook is far from deplete of animal based dishes. Hen and dumplings, carnitas, roasted spareribs, hard-cider braised pork shoulder. Those are even calling my minimal meat eating self’s name. Meat or no meat, Reusing’s recipes are accessible, using relatively few ingredients and manageable techniques. In her words, “Some are so simple that they don’t really qualify as recipes, and that is the point.” This whole roasted onion is proof of just that.

The long roasting process leaves the onion sweet and juicy. While I ate mine with just a dollop of crème fraîche, it would also be delicious served alongside roasted root vegetables or on a baguette drizzled with balsamic or olive oil. Oh, the possibilities!

On the topic of local food, I went to the Good Food Festival this week put on by Family Farmed. I ate my body weight in food from exhibitors like Local Folks Food, Mama’s Nuts, Ruth and Phil’s Ice Cream, Uptown Soda Bread Co., and Nordic Creamery. A list of all the vendors present is on the Good Food Festival website. There were also loads of workshops and panels, a list of which is also available on the website. Check it out next year. Your stomach (and the local food industry!) will thank you.

Crispy Roasted Cabbage

from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

This recipe serves 4 to 6. However, if you are cooking for just one (like me!), cut the cabbage in quarters. Core one of the quarters, slice, and roast according to the directions below. Return the other three quarters to refrigerator. Cabbage can keep for weeks in the fridge and even longer if you occasionally spray it with water.

In addition to eating this cabbage as a side to corned beef, Clark suggests eating it in an all-vegetable meal with brown rice and fried tofu croutons, as a side dish for roast chicken, under a dollop of sour cream of yogurt and showered with dill, or accompanied by toasted brown bread slathered in butter. I recently tossed a healthy amount on top of a cheese pizza.

Serves 4 to 6 

1 pound green cabbage, cored

Olive or peanut oil, for brushing

Pinch kosher salt

Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the cabbage into 1 inch thick slices. Brush the slices with olive oil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Try to keep the pieces from falling apart (though it they do start to separate that is ok). Sprinkle the cabbage with a generous seasoning of salt. Roast, turning once, until crispy and browned, 25 to 30 minutes. If using cheese, sprinkle on top during the last 10 minutes of roasting.

Whole Roasted Onion

from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast whole, upeeled onions on a baking sheet for an hour or longer, until the skins are deep golden brown and blistered and the flesh is very tender throughout when pierced with a sharp knife. To serve, make a slit across the top of each onion with a sharp knife and insert a big pat of butter or spoonful of crème fraîche. Serve with salt at the table.

Crème Fraîche

from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing

In a bowl, whisk together 1 part buttermilk with 8 parts non-ultra-pasteurized (and preferably non-homogenized) heavy cream. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and leave it out on the counter for 24 to 48 hours until it thickens. Whisk again before storing, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several weeks; it gets thicker and more delicious as it ages. Crème Fraîche has a higher fat content than commercial sour cream and so can be heated without breaking.

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Golden Crusted Brussels Sprouts

I was one of those goody two-shoes children who didn’t put up much of a fuss when it came to eating my vegetables. Except when it came to Brussels sprouts. The Brussels sprouts consumed in my household were normally of the frozen Green Giant variety and oh did I hate them. If they were covered in cheese sauce my hatred was milder but it was hatred nonetheless. Needless to say, I’ve done essentially no Brussels sprout eating since my parents gave up on serving them and resorted back to the more kid friendly carrots and broccoli.

Brussels sprouts are now in season though and happen to be popping up at every farmers’ market stand. While making a list of produce to purchase at the farmers’ market, my mind wandered to the mounds of Brussels sprouts I’d been walking by for the past several weeks. I decided that there must be some good way to prepare them. Logic requires it. Why would people buy Brussels sprouts if they were the bitter, kind of mushy vegetables I remember from my childhood? Not one to back down from a challenge, even if it is one that just exists in my own head, I bought a pound of Brussels sprouts last weekend determined to find a Brussels sprouts recipe I liked. Maybe even loved. And I did.

These golden crusted Brussels sprouts – with the perfect amount of crunch and the equally perfect touch of salt, pepper, and cheese – has the potential to turn even the most stubborn Brussels sprout hater around. And here is my proof:

Roommate #1 (walking in to the kitchen): “What are those? Brussels sprouts?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Roommate #1: “My mom made Brussels sprouts once. None of us like them so she never tried them again.”

Me: “Try one.”

Roommate #1: “Jess! These are good.”

(About 30 seconds later.)

Roommate #2 (walking in to the kitchen): “Did you make Brussels sprouts?”

Me: “Yeah. Do you want one?”

Roommate #2: “I don’t like Brussels sprouts but thanks.”

Me: “Try one. These are better.”

Roommate #2 (after eating the Brussels sprout): “I’d eat Brussels sprouts if they all tasted like this!”

Case in point.

Golden Crusted Brussels Sprouts

from 101cookbooks

Serves 4 as a side

24 small brussels sprouts

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing

fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup grated cheese of your choice (I recommend Parmesan or Gruyere!)

Wash the brussels sprouts well. Trim the stem ends and remove any raggy outer leaves. Cut in half from stem to top and gently rub each half with olive oil, keeping it intact (or if you are lazy just toss them in a bowl with a glug of olive oil).

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in your largest skillet over medium heat. Don’t overheat the skillet, or the outsides of the brussels sprouts will cook too quickly. Place the brussels sprouts in the pan flat side down (single-layer), sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt, cover, and cook for roughly 5 minutes; the bottoms of the sprouts should only show a hint of browning. Cut into or taste one of the sprouts to gauge whether they’re tender throughout. If not, cover and cook for a few more minutes.

Once just tender, uncover, turn up the heat, and cook until the flat sides are deep brown and caramelized. Use a metal spatula to toss them once or twice to get some browning on the rounded side. Season with more salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a dusting of grated cheese. While you might be able to get away with keeping a platter of these warm in the oven for a few minutes, they are exponentially tastier if popped in your mouth immediately.

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