Thai Lentil Soup with Sugar Snap Peas and Chili Oil

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I’ve had an extremely prolific season in the kitchen. Winter does that to me. It brings out all those nesting instincts. One sniff of the chill in the air and poof! just like that, I’m craving soups, stews, casseroles and the rest of that warm/comforting catalog. Also, if you’re me, that includes a lot of warm desserts, but we’ll save that for another post.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I’ve been cooking, or eating. Which is a shame. But somewhere between dropping off/picking up a toddler and trying to put an infant to nap fifty five times a day, actually taking the time to WRITE about what I’ve been cramming in my mouth hasn’t happened. But this soup has the best of intentions to help remedy the problem. It’s got vegetables and protein, color and crunch. And – cherry on top – it tastes like Thai food, which should be an immediate win in your book. Because there’s only one thing better than hot soup on a cold day, and that’s Asian-ish hot soup on a cold day. The only annoying ingredient to locate here is kaffir lime leaves. But they’re worth hunting down for this recipe, and as I’ve discovered, freeze amazingly well.

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Since this is yet another Ottolenghi recipe, yes, it’s tad on the fussy side with garnishes and such. Some days, even I wonder if it’s really necessary to make yet another shallot infused oil to drizzle over something. But in case you’re wondering, like I was, if you could just add shallots and chili to the soup instead of making an extra component…well, you could, but it would produce a soup that’s a bit of an also ran in as opposed to a winner. Which one do you want to be? (Side note: these bragging and competitive tendencies are in no way a reflection of the kind of parent I hope to be. Ahem.)

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Thai Lentil Soup with Sugar Snap Peas and Chili Oil

adapted from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi
Ingredients:
For the soup:

4 oz sugar snap peas

3 tbsp sunflower oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2 tbsp vegetarian red curry paste

2 lemongrass stalks, gently bashed with a rolling pin

4 fresh Kaffir lime leaves (or 12 dried)

1 1/4 cups/250 g red lentils

1 cups/250 ml coconut milk (I added a bit more but used light coconut milk)

1 1/2 tbsp lime juice

1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

1 cup/15 g cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

salt

For the chili-infused oil

3/4 cup/180 ml sunflower oil

2 shallots, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped

1 tsp peeled and coarsely chopped fresh ginger

1/2 red chili, coarsely chopped

1/2 star anise pod

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp tomato paste

grated zest of 1/2 small lemon

First make the chili oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of the sunflower oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, chili, star anise, and curry powder and fry over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the shallot is soft. Add the tomato paste and cook gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining oil and the lemon zest and simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Leave to cool.

For the soup, bring a small pan of water to a boil and throw in the sugar snap peas. Cook for 90 seconds, drain, refresh under cod water, and set aside to dry. Once cool, cut them on the diagonal into thin slices.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook over low heat, with a lid on, for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion is completely soft and sweet. Stir in the red curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, red lentils, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft.

Remove the soup from the heat and take out and discard the lemongrass and lime leaves. Use a blender to process the soup until it is completely smooth. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir. Return the soup to medium heat so all the flavors come together. Ladle into bowls, scatter the snap peas on top, sprinkle with the cilantro, and finish as much chili oil as you’d like.

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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You know the way you feel when you achieve something monumental, like run a marathon, figure out how to fold a fitted sheet without losing your mind, or as in this case, discover the best chocolate chip cookie recipe in existence? I’ve accomplished two of these three goals already (and if you know me you’ll figure out the other one pretty quickly), so I think it’s safe to say I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

I’m one of those people that never gives up on finding the perfect cookie recipe, especially for that golden standard of cookiedom – the chocolate chip. I’ve tried it all, from recipes on the back of bags and boxes, to recipes from cookbook tomes that promise the DEFINITIVE chocolate chip cookie to beat all others (Liars, all). After nearly two decades of searching, I believe I’m done. And I didn’t have to go far to find them. Friendly blogosphere to the rescue. The winning recipe comes from Not Without Salt, that amazing and brilliantly photographed blog by Ashley Rodriguez that contains more things I want to eat than I thought possible.

The secrets to this recipe are threefold. One, it uses chocolate chunks instead of chips, which were a complete revelation. Who knew how chalky and tasteless chocolate chips could be in comparison to the real thing? Second, it adds sea salt, that magic ingredient that makes every baked good taste more awesome. And finally, it uses not one, not two, but three kinds of sugar to produce a perfectly chewy but still slightly crisp cookie. Although I’ve tested the recipe with just two sugars and it still works great.

The result is the best cookies ever. That’s all that needs to be said, really. Don’t let me waste any more of your time. It is a rainy Monday after all, aka time to the crank up the oven and get cozy with a good book and a plate of cookies. Or, you know, just a plate of cookies.

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Recipe from Not Without Salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (can be subbed out for more brown or white sugar if needed)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound chocolate (I love milk, but semi or dark are good too), cut into chunks
Flaky sea salt, to finish

Heat oven to 360°F (not sure how those extra ten degrees make a difference, but why argue?) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated, and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in salt and baking soda until combined, then the flour on a low speed until just mixed. The dough will look crumbly at this point. With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks. Yes, it’s a lot of chocolate, but no, it’s not too much.

Scoop cookies into 1 1/2 tablespoon mounds, spacing them apart on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still gooey and soft inside. Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring onto a cooling rack.

Really Late, Great Summer Panzanella

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I feel like I begin every post recently with an apology. Mostly for lateness. And I was ready to apologize this time as well, because really, calling this recipe seasonal would be pushing it.

Panzanella is ideally midsummer food. It’s perfect with those beautifully gnarly heirloom tomatoes, and is the kind of thing you devour for an alfresco lunch in July. But (and I make this confession knowing that some of you may only hate me as a result), the weather where I live is still kind of perfect. It’s California after all. That infuriating place where late September still means ripe tomatoes at the farmers markets, where the temperatures are still in the glorious high 70s, and where we can pretend that summer is not in fact, over.

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Join me in this place of denial for a moment. Because then you can make this panzanella pronto, before the produce you need for it is truly and totally out of season. Save the mealy hothouse tomatoes for another recipe. This one deserves your pretty girls.

If you’re a panzanella newbie, this recipe is a treat. Essentially an Italian bread salad accented with fresh vegetables, it’s a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. For those of you that have made panzanella before, the game changer here is toasting the bread cubes before tossing the salad. It allows it to get soft and juicy without venturing into the dreaded territory of soggy. The dressing is light and bright. All in all, it’s perfect early fall late, late, late summer food.

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Really Late, Great Summer Panzanella

Recipe adapted from Ina Garten

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small loaf artisan bread (I used an Acme olive loaf), cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
2 large, ripe tomatoes (heirlooms are amazing), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small Persian cucumber, unpeeled, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
handful basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the ingredients.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Obsessively Good Spiced Candied Nuts

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Let’s be clear about this. If you’re looking to make these for a crowd, to serve with cocktails, or to give away as party favors, please do the right thing and double this recipe. Don’t be an idiot, like yours truly, who foolishly thought a pound of nuts sounded like “more than enough” to make everyone happy. And who wound up with a sad little ziploc bag of insanely good spiced pecans (all that was leftover after I was done portioning out the rest into cutesy tins for our guests, and please, let’s not even pretend that I didn’t sneak a few out of each tin to pad our own paltry supply) that we polished off in…oh, I don’t know…eight minutes???

Anyway, like I was saying, your story doesn’t have to have a sad ending. Just do as I tell you and go to Costco and buy a mega bag of your favorite nuts – it doesn’t have to be pecans. Prep your mix of sugar and spices and coat your nuts of choice in the whole glorious mess. Roast. Eat. Pretend to walk away. Eat some more. Innocently wander past the tray cooling on the counter and blister the roof of your mouth as you nonchalantly pop a few more. Rinse and repeat. Forget your dreams of tossing these with a bright, crunchy spinach salad. Instead, keep your expectations realistic and just try to save a few for the big tupperware box you were planning to store them in.

Obsessively Good Spiced Candied Nuts

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper (+ 1/4 teaspoon of hot smoked paprika if you’re like me)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnut or pecan halves or whole almonds
1 egg white at room temperature
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, paprika and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, break up any that stick together. Attempt to exercise self control as you transfer them to an airtight container.

Black Pepper Tofu

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Purely adult time is pretty sparse around here. If we’re lucky, we go out to dinner once or twice a month, so we make the most of home-cooked meals. This one was my husband’s request a few nights ago, a recipe memory from our pre-parent days when cooking never had to involve considerations like needing leftovers that were child-friendly for the next day’s lunch. Once he mentioned black pepper tofu, it triggered a craving so strong that I had to acquiesce, practicality be damned. I mean, this is why PB&J sandwiches were invented, right?

People talk a lot about food being the way to a man’s heart, but not much mention is made of women’s hearts. Turns out, we’re not too different. In my case, fried tofu so spicy that your eyes will water just a little, is pretty much the express lane to my heart. I challenge you to try this dish once and not think it is the BEST tofu preparation ever. As for you tofu skeptics? Consider yourselves converted. This is tofu in its very best avatar – crispy batter fried, and then tossed in a hot-sweet mix of shallots, red chilies, green onions and black pepper. Fire up the skillet, and be sure to invite me to dinner. Cos honestly, even if you didn’t, I’d probably smell it from a mile away and show up anyway.

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Black Pepper Tofu

Recipe adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 package (14 oz) extra firm tofu
vegetable oil for frying
cornstarch to dust tofu
3 tbsp butter
6 small shallots or one medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 fresh mild red chiles, or 1-2 hot Thai green chilies, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
6-8 green onions, cut into 1 inch segments

Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to cover the bottom of the pan and heat until near smoking. Cut the tofu into 1 inch cubes. Toss with some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. Fry the tofu in batches so they become crispy, not stew in the pan. Turn them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then melt 2 tbsp butter in the pan. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger; sauté on low-medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Add the soy sauce, honey, and sugar and stir, then incorporate the crushed black pepper. Add the tofu to warm up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, add the remaining tablespoon of butter to create a glossy coating on the tofu, stir in the  green onions and remove from the flame. Serve hot, with steamed white or brown rice.