Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coconut-Chia Breakfast Bowl with Mango, Almond, and Banana

I try not to feature any one ingredient too heavily on this blog. Much like at  my dinner parties, I try to steer away from repetition, and produce something new with every dish. I'm pretty sure some of our friends who eat in our apartment regularly have begun to think I have some sort of endless well of varied recipes in my head. 

But in our day-to-day cooking and eating, there are certain ingredients, foods, and themes that reoccur regularly. Chia seeds are one of them. While I've only posted one other chia recipe to this blog, S and I enjoy chia desserts pretty regularly. There are a glut of chia recipes out there already, but I frequently nix the idea of a recipe in favor of putting together a pudding from whatever I already have in the house.

That's the beautiful thing about chia seeds- they're very versatile. They'll soak up any kind of liquid you pour them into, and varying the amount can produce everything from smoothie, to jam, to pudding consistencies. They're also tasteless, so you can add them to just about anything you like the flavor of to make a pudding. 

They're great with coconut milk, or almond milk to make pudding, fantastic in juice to make a chia fresca drink, great with mashed berries to make raw jam, and taste great topped with just about any combination of fruit. 

So consider the recipe below a backbone or a jumping off point. You can change up the sweetener, add a little fruit juice to change the flavor, top it with granola, or with different fruits (perhaps kiwi and pineapple, or berries and melon), toasted sesame seeds, muesli, whatever you like! The beauty of chia pudding is its simplicity and adaptability, so experiment away! 

Coconut-Chia Breakfast Pudding with Mango, Almond, and Banana

2 C coconut milk (or almond)
1/4 C chia seeds
2 tbsp coconut butter optional*
1/2 tsp almond extract (or vanilla)
2 tbsp maple syrup (or agave or honey)
2 bananas
1 mango
1.4 C shredded dried coconut
1/2 C almond slivers

If your coconut butter is cold and rock hard like mine was, put it in a little bowl and microwave it about 20 seconds at 50% power, or pop it in a bath of warm water until it softens. Add coconut butter to a large bowl or container with a lid (don't put the lid on yet though), and stir in the maple syrup and almond extract until smooth and well combined. 

Add about 1/2 C coconut milk and mix until the coconut butter/maple is thoroughly mixed into the coconut milk. Add the rest of the can of coconut milk and mix well. 

Whisk in the chia seeds, pop on the lid and refrigerate at least three hours, or overnight. Overnight is ideal for breakfast usage. 

Add the almonds to a small, dry skillet, and place over medium-low heat and stir often. Don't take your eyes off the almonds, and ideally slowly stir these the whole time as when they start to toast they can burn quickly. Also moving and turning them will help them toast evenly. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the almonds begin to turn pale brown and smell toasty. As soon as the almonds go from ultra pale beige to toasty light brown, remove pan from heat and continue to stir almonds for about 1 minute, to finish off toasting. If you smell anything burning, dump the almonds out onto a room temperature plate to help them stop cooking. Set the almonds aside.

When I'm having this for breakfast I do all my chopping in the morning right before I eat the pudding, but theoretically you could cut up the mango the night before and toss it with a bit of lemon juice, then keep it in the fridge until the morning, but I think I would hold off on cutting the banana until right before serving because old sliced banana is slimy. Peel and chop the mango into about 1/2 inch cubes. Peel the banana and cut into thin slices. 

Take the lid off the pudding, give it a stir and spoon into bowls, top with the banana and mango, then sprinkle with the toasted almond and shredded coconut. Enjoy! 

*The coconut butter is optional, as it isn't integral to the success of the recipe, so if you don't like/are allergic to coconut, or if you don't want to buy a whole jar for one recipe, then you can omit it without any replacement. It makes the pudding a bit creamier and also a bit stiffer, and generally bulks it up a bit, but I have made many chia puddings without it. If you'd like a thicker pudding without adding coconut butter, then add an extra 2 tbsps of chia seeds. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blackberry Lime Tea Popsicles

These pops were one of those dishes I sort of stumbled into, or perhaps I should say one of those dishes I got pulled into by the current of cooking and life. I live in Manhattan, where many of the grocery stores are stuffed absolutely to the brim with convenience foods- prepared refrigerated meals, frozen meals, take out sushi, a dosa bar, a salad bar, a soup bar- these are all things my local Whole Foods has. 

But when it comes to fresh produce, your average Manhattan grocery store tends to slack a bit on the selection. Even Whole Foods, considered the pinnacle of New York grocery store options, second only to Fairway, tends to have an iffy selection. If you want very popular produce like apples, or strawberries, or green beans they'll have that. And certainly all of their produce is lovely and ripe, but I once went to two Whole Foods, and then to another grocery store in search of cauliflower, only to be forced to give up on my plans for roasted cauliflower because it was no where to be found.

Last weekend I wanted to make popsicles. It was finally warm and sunny, and popsicles felt like the right way to ring in Spring. S suggested pomegranate-lime popsicles with pomegranate arils in them, and I thought with a bit of coconut milk that sounded like a fantastic plan. 

But finding a pomegranate proved impossible. I went to two smaller, local grocery stores only to find there were no pomegranates. So I stepped up my game and went to Whole Foods after brunch on Saturday, where after searching the produce section, I gave up an asked one of the stockers.

He walked me over to the refrigerated section of produce, where they keep all the really expensive pre-cut produce, like the 7 dollar pints of pineapple whose price tags gave me major sticker-shock in college when my roommate would buy them, and he showed me a 1/2 pint container of pomegranate arils, all neatly removed from the pomegranate and packaged up. They were 9 dollars. 

Obviously, I couldn't do it. Not only was the price a major blow, but there was no way I could bring those home and photograph them without the lovely pomegranate they're supposed to be inside of. Besides, convenience food like that, foods that could easily be made anyway but cost over three times as much because the grocery store de-ariled your pomegranate drive me crazy. I just can't buy them.

"Lets go look at the berries instead." I said to S. In the end an entire pint of blackberries was $2 dollars cheaper than a 1/2 pint of pomegranate arils. Which meant they were still crazy expensive, but at least less so. And they were American grown. I started brainstorming about what to replace the coconut milk with, now that I was using blackberries. 

I thought about pear juice, but I don't like to use too many fresh juices in my recipes as not everyone has a juicer, and I know how frustrating it is to not have a key piece of equipment for a recipe, every time a recipe calls for a high powered blender or Vitamix I think of my aging Oster blender bought in college, and the hot plastic smell its motor gives off just trying to turn frozen raspberries and coconut milk into a milk shake, and move on to another recipe. 

And then I remembered my favorite Blue Moon sorbet, Blackberry Lime, and the way it tastes faintly of tea, despite not having any actual tea in it. I love the deep, dark tea undertones in the sorbet, so I figured I would probably love them in popsicles. And using actual tea would definitely make the flavor pop. Plus I always have black tea in the kitchen because S and I use it to brew Kombucha. 
The tea proved to be an excellent idea, and these pops are amazingly addicting. Sweet, a little tart, and lightly spiced with black tea, which means they also have a little pop of caffeine, in case you're into a bit of an energy boost with your dessert. Enjoy!

Blackberry Lime Tea Popsicles
Makes 6-7 Popsicles in traditional 1/2C molds. 8-10 in Zoku.

1 pint blackberries
2 C water
1/2 c sugar
4 limes
1/4 C honey
5 black teabags

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil and add the teabags. Allow to steep for about 5 minutes. Remove tea bags, return tea to low heat and add the sugar. Cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. 

Juice the limes, remove any seeds. Add the lime juice and the blackberries (feel free to set some aside to add to the pops whole) to another sauce pan, along with the honey. Cook over low heat, stirring and occasionally mashing the berries for about 4-6 minutes, until the juices are dark purple and the berries are beginning to break down. 

Pour the blackberry mixture and the black tea mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. 

Place a fine sieve over a large measuring cup or bowl and pour the blackberry mixture through the sieve to remove the blackberry seeds. 

You can make these pops in traditional popsicle molds, or in a Zoku pop maker, like I did in these photos. I made some the old fashioned way as well, and after about 8 hours they were frozen solid and ready to eat. I ran my popsicle mold under water for about 45 seconds to make removing them easier.

*This is an estimate, I actually made 4 traditional pops and 3 Zoku pops.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Warm Feta and Kale Dip

This dip is heavenly. I had the idea for it while scavenging in the kitchen for something to put on a leftover baguette. I could only find feta and olive oil, so I melted the feta in a bit of olive oil, microwaved it, and we gobbled the lumpy, bubbly mixture up on our day old baguette. 

The snack was delicious, but a bit oily and salty, so I started thinking about how I would improve the feta dip, if I made it again. First I thought of greek yogurt, then S thought of cream cheese. Then I realized the answer was to use both. 

Somewhere along the line I decided to add roasted garlic for its warm, rich flavor, and kale because I pretty much think kale goes in everything. And then I baked it instead of microwaved, so it would get all beautiful and brown and toasty on top. 

If you're wondering where I was last week, I took a short hiatus to celebrate my 26th birthday by going skiing in Vermont with my father. It was fantastic, we had some great bluebird days, not a cloud in the sky, and some incredibly cold and windy days, and one really foggy and rainy day, but we skied through it all.

At a little restaurant in Manchester, VT, we had a curry-goat cheese dip one night, which came with eggplant fries. Typically I do not like eggplant, but this was deep fried eggplant, so I was willing to try it. 

The eggplant fries turned out to be amazing. The dip was good, it tasted quite a bit like Chicken Makhani sauce, but the eggplant fries stole the show. They were crispy on the outside and hot and soft inside, and not too eggplant-y. I bet they would be super tasty with this dip.

You could dip a lot of things in this kale-feta dip. Sliced baguette, toasted pita strips, carrot sticks, falafel chips (have you tried falafel chips? they're awesome), or pumpernickel bread. What else would you try? I bet it would be great on some of those fancy seeded crackers everyone is into lately.

S and I debated what we wanted to eat the dip on, I said toasted pita, he said baguette. He won because baguettes are so delicious and perfect I can never resist the allure of french bread. I toasted my slices a bit to make them sturdier and easier to dip. I recommend this, especially if you're serving the dip to a party. 

This dip would make an excellent appetizer at a dinner party, finger food at a cocktail party, and goes great as a game night snack (are there any sports on this time of year? I don't even know). Or, be like S and I and just eat it as a side dish at dinner. We had it at two different meals and in between popped the leftovers in the fridge, it warmed up just fine being put back into the oven. Enjoy!

Warm Feta and Kale Dip
serves 4-5 as a side dish, or makes a lovely party appetizer

1 1/2 C greek yogurt
3/4 C feta
1/4 C olive oil
3 1/2 oz kale (2 cups chopped)
1/3 oz basil (1/2 C chopped fine)
7 oz Feta cheese (about 1 Cup crumbles)
1 oz Romano cheese, grated
1/2 C cream cheese
1 small head garlic
1 baguette

Begin by roasting the garlic. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit, place the garlic on a cutting board and cut off just the top of it, revealing the tops of each clove. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

While the garlic roasts blanch the kale. Place a large pot of water over high heat to bring to a boil. Wash kale, remove the rib from the middle of each leaf, then slice thin. I do this by stacking my de-stemmed leaves and rolling them up, then cutting across the roll. Once water is boiling, dump all your kale in it and mix it around for about 20-30 seconds, then drain. Do not over blanch the kale, it will cook more in the oven. Allow kale to fully drain while preparing the dip. You want it fairly dry when it goes in.

Slice the baguette into pretty thin slices and brush each slice with a small amount of olive oil. Place on a rack and toast in the oven alongside the garlic, about 3 minutes, or until the toast is nice and golden brown. Keep an eye on it to prevent burning.

When garlic is roasted through (the cloves will be soft and brown), remove from the oven, unwrap, and set aside. Turn oven down to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
Thinly slice the basil and crumble the feta, set aside.

In a large bowl mix the greek yogurt, olive oil and cream cheese, once smooth, add the cloves of roasted garlic. I squeeze mine to remove them from their papery skins., but peeling is also easy. Mash and mix the garlic into the dip. Add the feta and 1/2 the Romano cheese, and mix well. Fold in the basil and kale until well mixed. 

Spoon the dip into an oven safe dish and top with the remaining Romano cheese. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbly and hot. Finish under the broiler for 3-5 minutes if you'd like to brown the top. 

Serve immediately with toasted baguette. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pecorino Romano Black Pepper Crackers

These crackers are pretty amazing. I considered calling them a cheez-it copy cat, but they aren't quite that, being Romano flavored, and they're a bit like a parmesan Goldfish cracker, except not quite so puffy, and again, Romano flavored. 

But really, calling these crackers a copycat of any commercially produced cracker would be doing them a huge injustice. These are so, so, so much better than a Cheez It or a Goldfish cracker, they're better than Carr's, better than any commercial cracker I've ever had. And very addicting.

I first made these a few weeks ago, mostly just to see if I could make crackers. I've never been super confident when it comes to flour products one has to roll out. I hate sticky doughs, but abhor dry baked goods, and there is a fine line between dough too sticky, and a final product that turns out too dry.

This dough, however, is very easy to roll out, provided you flour the surface and your rolling pin. I use a nonstick rolling pin, but I don't necessarily think it's any better than a wooden one. The key with this cracker is to roll the dough so thin it's practically see through. Think about 4 sheets of printer paper thick.

I served the first batch to some friends who dropped in by surprise and we devoured them all with beers, and they were perfect. I love the idea of being the type of hostess who always has some homemade snacks, and maybe a well mixed cocktail or two to offer guests while making sparkling conversation, so I was excited to have freshly baked crackers to offer my friends. 

In reality though, I am very frequently the type of hostess who, when announced guests drop by, plops down an open box of Carr's crackers and a wedge of cheddar, then mostly fails at conversation while working on this blog. Full disclosure, I'm doing that right now. 

Full, full disclosure, there isn't even any cheddar. This time, I just plopped down a partially eaten box of Carr's crackers. Our friend is eating them happily anyway. So I'm not always a perfect hostess, but you know, sometimes there is fresh baked bread and well mixed cocktails with homemade ginger syrup. It varies around here.

The second batch, the one photographed here, I baked to go along with some potato, leek, and cheddar soup I made for S and myself last week. The crackers were a fantastic compliment to the rich, creamy soup. They would definitely also be great with chicken or vegetable soup, I can just imagine them delightfully soaked in chicken broth. 

These would also be lovely if made with Parmesan, or Asiago, or just about any hard cheese. They would probably be great with Manchego and a pinch of cinnamon, or super aged Gouda. I, however, love the aged, earthy, slightly funky sheep's milk flavor of the Pecorino Romano. I bet you'll love them, too. Enjoy!

Pecorino Romano Black Pepper Crackers

2 Cups flour plus extra for dusting
2/3 C water
1/4 C + 1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 C  grated Romano cheese ~3oz
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
extra cheese salt and pepper for topping

In a large bowl combine 2 C flour, salt, cheese, and black pepper, stir with a fork to combine. Add the water, then the olive oil, and mix again, until a loose dough forms. Add more flour if dough is too wet. 

Lightly flour counter top, dump dough out, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap or Bee's Wrap, and let sit 20 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. 
Divide dough into 6 even balls. Place one ball on a floured surface, put the others back under the plastic wrap. Roll out the ball on the floured surface until it's super super thin, thinner than a dime. I used a good deal of flour on the counter and on my rolling pin to keep it from sticking and it rolled out very easily. Once the dough is nearly paper thin, cut into pieces using small cookie cutters, or use a pizza cutter or knife to cut rolled out dough into little squares, place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet (they can be close together, they won't spread), and bake 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kale and Quinoa Chicken Pomegranate Salad with Maple-Balsamic Dressing.

I live in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, which isn't just a cute name. When I walk down my block I pass two buddhist temples for whom the burning of offerings on the Manhattan sidewalk is not an uncommon occurrence, I don't bat an eye at the fish, plucked fresh from the East River, dangling, drying, mouths open, from my neighbors fire escapes. 

I eat at takeout places under the Manhattan bridge where the only english spoken is the number system I use to order my hot oil noodles, and I know why the shop keepers wear second sets of sleeves pulled up over their arms (to protect their shirt, of course), what those "Million Dollar Bill" notes in the dollar store are (offerings, to be burnt), I know a traditional funeral procession when I hear one coming down the block, and I can identify the smell of Durian a 50 feet away (it smells delicious, I don't know what everyone complains about). 

The open air fruit markets in my neighborhood sell rambutan, dragon fruit, candied lychees, lotus root, bitter melon, carrots 18 inches long, 4 ft tall sections of sugar cane, giant jackfruits, and of course, pomegranates. It's almost hard to believe once upon a time a pomegranate was exotic to me, unique, special. Now they're one of the most identifiable and western seeming fruits at my market. 

When I was a child I loved greek mythology, and the myth of Hades and Persephone fascinated me. Kidnapping, attempted wooing, a pomegranate aril eaten in Hades, the creation of winter. It was all very dark and scary, and yet I remember finding it kind of weirdly romantic. Apparently my juvenile brain thought tricking someone into spending a third of each year with you was romantic. 

When I was young, my mother would allow me to pick out a piece of exotic fruit at the grocery store, if it wasn't too expensive. We tried pomelo, starfruit, ugly fruit, champagne mangoes (SO GOOD), coconuts, and of course, pomegranates. Pomegranates were one of my favorite fancy fruits. I would cut them into quarters and eat one quarter a night, my little kid fingers deftly picking through all the membranes and flesh to get to the delicious little jewel seeds.

Now, all the fruits that once seemed so exotic to me are more likely to be sold in the nearby fruit market than apples or bananas are (though there are always oranges, regardless of season). Sometimes I stand on Forsyth, under the Manhattan bridge, across from a mechanic with "Moter Shop" painted on the wall, inhaling the pungent-slightly-rotten-very-sweet smell of the durians, picking through a bin of sugar plums or longan berries, wondering how I could be so lucky to live in a place like this. 

Pomegranates make a fantastic pairing with kale, which they absolutely do not sell in my neighborhood. There's also no quinoa, of course. Some things I have to head to SoHo or Tribeca for. The sweet, slightly earthy taste of the pomegranates compliments the green, earthy kale, and the toasted almonds are downright luxurious alongside the formidable greens.

The balsamic vinaigrette is probably my favorite, go-to dressing. It's simple, tangy, and a little bit sweet. I had always emulsified my salad dressings by hand, until recently when S suggested I try the immersion blender while whisking up a caesar dressing, and it worked so beautifully, I've been blending all my dressings this way ever since. 

In this recipe, an immersion blender will leave you with a pale brown, creamy dressing so tangy and sweet and delightful you'll want to triple the batch and pour it on all the lettuce in your house. You'll want to dip lettuce in it and eat the leaves like tortilla chips in salsa. 

I made this salad in the afternoon, and devoured it for lunch alongside a homemade ginger orangina, and then when S came home from work we ate the rest of it out of our giant, stainless steel dinner salad bowls. It was so tasty not one shred of kale, bite of chicken, or crumble of blue cheese was left in our bowls. Enjoy!

Kale and Quinoa Chicken Pomegranate Salad with Maple-Balsamic Dressing
Makes two dinner sized salads with a bit leftover for lunch.

10 oz kale (about 5 cups chopped)
1 Cup quinoa
2 Cups water
4 oz (3/4 C) slivered almonds
1 pomegranate
1 lb chicken breast thin cut
1/2 C crumbled blue cheese

Chicken Marinade
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 C balsamic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt + pepper

Maple-Balsamic Dressing
1/3 c balsamic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp maple
3 tbsp olive oil

Begin by marinading the chicken, in a large ziploc bag or shallow pan combine 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 C balsamic vinegar, the juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 2 tbsp), and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mix well, then add the chicken breast, cover (or seal bag), and set aside for at least 30 minutes, but you could even do this in the morning before work, by dinner the chicken will be extra marinaded.

Toast the almonds by placing them in a small skillet and heating over low heat. Mix the almonds around, keep them moving most of the time to prevent burning. They will slowly turn pale tan and creamy colored, and then light golden brown and toasty, remove from heat once they look and smell toasted. Careful not to burn them, it's easy to forget and burn one side of every almond. When they'e toasted, after about 6 minutes over heat, pour the almonds into a small bowl and set aside.

Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh steamer, then place in a saucepan along with 2 cups of water, turn heat to medium and bring water to a boil, then give it a stir, reduce to low heat, and cover. Cook for about 12 minutes, or until quinoa has puffed, sprouted, and absorbed most of the water. I like to stop before the quinoa gets too soft, so it will hold its shape better in the salad. Drain any excess water and fluff quinoa with a fork. Set aside.

When the chicken is done marinading, pour a bit of olive oil into a heavy bottomed skillet, place over medium heat and once pan is hot, add the chicken, move it around bit to get an olive oil coating so it won't stick. Add a few tablespoon's of the marinade mix in with the chicken, and cook for a few moments then flip, to brown each side. Reduce heat slightly, cover chicken and let cook another ten minutes, or until juices run clear (cooking length will depend on chicken thickness). 

While the chicken cooks, start on the kale. If you find kale a bit bitter, give it a massage (seriously!), take the leaves in your hands and rub them together until the leaves darken and become softer. I don't mind the strength of kale's taste, or its consistency so I usually don't bother with this, but if you're at all apprehensive about kale I recommend it. It really does change the consistency and lighten the taste of the kale. 

To slice the kale thin, stack 4-6 kale leaves together, then roll them into a long kale cigar. Begin slicing at the leafy end, and cut across the cigar in thin strips. You'll end up with a bunch of skinny, couple-inch-long kale ribbons. Perfect! 

Now, remove the pomegranate arils. There's a great simple way to do this in a bowl of water. Or you can just hack it in half and make a big mess pulling them out with your fingers and eating a bunch as you go. This is my preferred method. Set them aside.

When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from heat, and set aside on a plate to a cool a bit. Then slice into thin, bite sized strips.

For the dressing, combine balsamic vinegar and lemon in a bowl, whisk well. Add maple syrup and whisk again, then slowly, beginning with just a few drops, add the olive oil while whisking like crazy. Continue adding olive oil in a very thin stream while whisking nonstop. The goal here is to emulsify the olive oil into the dressing so they won't separate. You can also you an immersion blender, which are pretty amazing for salad dressing making. 

In large dinner bowls, place a healthy handful of kale, sprinkle it all over generously with quinoa, toss on some pomegranate arils, drizzle with dressing, toss a bit, then add some chicken, blue cheese, and almonds. Add another drizzle of dressing and devour.