chicken tikka masala

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Chicken tikka masala sounds so good in theory. It’s everything I love about Italian food – carbs and meat and tomato sauce mixed together – but it’s Indian food, which I also love. Except, the first time I made it, the similarity was too strong. I felt like I was eating spaghetti sauce with weird spices over rice when it should have been pasta.

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It took a couple years, but I finally got around to trying a new recipe. Maybe it’s the lemon juice in this recipe that makes all the difference, but there was no spaghetti confusion here. Marinara doesn’t usually have chili spices, ginger, and yogurt either.

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There’s one thing about this recipe that will seem strange and might make you uncomfortable, and that is that the chicken is not cooked all the way through on the grill. A trip to the grill (or the broiler) is important to really brown, even char, the meat, but then it’s chopped so it can finish cooking in the sauce. This gives it time to soak up some flavor from the sauce with drying out.

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It may be an unusual technique, but it works, because this is the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever eaten. Of course, the only other chicken tikka masala I’ve eaten was the spaghetti one, so my basis for comparison is not large. Still, I know good when I taste it, and this is very good.

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Chicken Tikka Masala (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

6-8 servings

3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 cloves garlic, 8 smashed and 4 minced
3 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger, divided
2 cups yogurt
¾ cup fresh juice from 4 to 6 lemons, divided
salt
5 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, legs, or a mix), skin removed
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 cup heavy cream

1. Heat a small not-nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne; toast, stirring constantly, until the spices begin to smoke. Immediately remove them from the pan so they don’t burn.

2. Combine 6 tablespoons of the spice mixture, 8 cloves smashed garlic, 2 tablespoons ginger, the yogurt, ½ cup lemon juice, and ¼ cup salt in a large bowl. Score the chicken at 1-inch intervals and immerse in the yogurt mixture; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

3. When the chicken has marinated, heat the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the onions, 4 cloves minced garlic, and the remaining 2 tablespoons ginger. Cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender or in batches with a regular blender. Stir in the cream and the remaining ¼ cup lemon juice. Season with salt if necessary; set aside.

4. Heat a grill to high heat. Grill the chicken without moving until charred, 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken and char the second side. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for 10 minutes. The chicken should not be cooked through. (The chicken can also be broiled instead of grilled.)

5. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces; transfer it to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately with rice or naan, topping with the remaining cilantro.

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almond lemon cream cheese coffee cake

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I’ve gotten in the habit of eating just crumbs of each treat I bake. This sounds stingier than it is. While the goal really is to limit my indulging, what inevitably happens is that I “accidentally” create crumbs. Maybe one square of a bar cookie is too rectangular compared to the rest; I better shave a sliver off. Or maybe, in the work kitchen, someone only ate half a cookie (always the same person, and she usually comes back for the other half soon enough); that doesn’t look appetizing, so I’d better eat the other half. Oops, while I was cutting slices of cake, a whole chunk fell off this one; there’s no size limit on crumb, so it counts and I get to eat it.

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The result is that I eat more and enjoy it less. Instead, I’ve started cutting myself a serving and setting it aside until I get home from work, so I can sit down and truly savor it. That’s exactly what I did with this cake, and I was so excited to get home at eat my slice. Especially once my coworkers started coming by my office to rave about how good the cake was. This went faster than anything I’ve ever brought in!

Which, unfortunately, means it was gone by the time I found out that Dave had eaten my piece – in addition to the piece he’d already grabbed from the office kitchen. Oh, I know, it sounds terrible, but as much as I wanted to give him the guilt trip to end all guilt trips, the fact is that it wasn’t exactly his fault. I’d cut my slice and then set it on the counter too close to where he was laying out his lunch. He thought I put it there for him. Still, I was very, very sad.

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This did not stop the stream of coworkers telling me how good the cake was. Obviously I needed to make it again, so I did, less than a week later (I would have made it that very night if I’d had time!), and this time I hid my slice so there’d be no confusion. And it was as good as they said – Buttery and sweet, lemon-scented, some crunchy bites with almonds, and of course my favorite was the streak of cheesecake through the middle. It all worked out in the end, but I definitely learned a lesson.

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Lemon Almond Cream Cheese Coffee Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

I made almost no changes to the original recipe. I did substitute ¼ cup Greek yogurt for ¼ cup of the sour cream. Also, my tube pan has a detachable bottom, so I removed the sides, and then the cake was kind of stuck on the bottom portion with the center tube. The cake was too delicate to lift off of the bottom. I ended up chilling the cake overnight and removing the cake from the base in the morning, when it was firm. Then I let it warm up before serving.

Lemon sugar-almond topping:
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1½ teaspoons finely grated zest from 1 lemon
½ cup sliced almonds

Cake:
2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1⅛ teaspoons baking powder
1⅛ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup plus 7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated zest plus 4 teaspoons juice from 1 to 2 lemons
4 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1. For the topping: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl until combined and the sugar is moistened. Stir in the almonds; set aside.

2. For the cake: Spray a 10-inch tube pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (7.875 ounces), and the lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 20 seconds, and scraping down the beater and sides of bowl as necessary. Add 4 teaspoons vanilla and mix to combine. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the sour cream, mixing until incorporated after each addition, 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat, using half of the remaining flour mixture and all of the remaining sour cream. Scrape the bowl and add the remaining flour mixture; mix at low speed until the batter is thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the batter once or twice with a rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.

3. Reserve 1¼ cups batter and set aside. Spoon the remaining batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Return the now-empty bowl to the mixer and beat the cream cheese, remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice, and remaining teaspoon vanilla on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened, about 1 minute. Add ¼ cup of the reserved batter and mix until incorporated. Spoon the cheese filling mixture evenly over the batter, keeping the filling about 1 inch from the edges of the pan; smooth the top. Spread the remaining cup of reserved batter over the filling and smooth the top. With a butter knife or offset spatula, gently swirl the filling into the batter using a figure-8 motion, being careful to not drag the filling to the bottom or edges of pan. Firmly tap the pan on the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any bubbles. Sprinkle the lemon sugar-almond topping evenly over the batter and gently press into batter to adhere.

4. Bake until the top is golden and just firm, and a long skewer inserted into cake comes out clean (skewer will be wet if inserted into cheese filling), 45 to 50 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and firmly tap on counter 2 or 3 times (the top of the cake may sink slightly). Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 1 hour. Gently invert the cake onto a rimmed baking sheet (the cake will be topping-side down); remove the tube pan, place a wire rack on top of the cake, and invert the cake sugar-side up. Cool to room temperature, about 1½ hours. Cut into slices and serve.

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salad with pancetta, peperoncini, and parmesan

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My favorite way to spend a Saturday night is cooking. It’s the only night of the week I feel like dinner can be a project; I’m busy being busy on weeknights, and I’m busy being lazy Friday and Sunday. So when I finally get the chance to cook a lot of food, I have a habit of cooking too much food.

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One strategy I use to eat as much as possible without stuffing myself silly is to eat in courses, with time between each to allow for some digestion. Another is to serve food that’s fairly light, so I don’t get filled up by just a few bites.

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This salad has become my go-to light salad course. It doesn’t hurt that it’s easy, plus the combination of ingredients is just perfect – briny peppers, salty meat, and parmesan to make it seem hearty and filling when it really isn’t. I’ve served it to pretty much everyone who’s come over for dinner in the last few months. I’ve also served at least four other courses each time, because there’s no better way for me to spend a Saturday night.

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Salad with Pancetta, Peperoncini, and Parmesan

Serves 4 to 6

Before adding garlic to dressings, I always toast it, with the peel on, in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the peel is black where it hits the pan.  It tames the harsh bite of raw garlic.

Dressing:
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salad:
2 romaine hearts, washed and chopped
8 peperocini, stems removed, chopped fine
6 ounces pancetta, cooked and crumbled
½ cup (1 ounce) shredded parmesan

1. For the dressing: Mix everything.

2. For the salad: Mix everything; toss with dressing.

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key lime bars

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Back in the old days, I made these all the time. Whenever I needed a dessert to go with Mexican food, or I wanted to bring something to a party that was sure to be popular but wasn’t too common, or I just wanted a refreshing treat, this was my go-to. “The old days”, of course, being before I had a blog and joined Tuesdays with Dorie, which started a love affair with recipes that are shiny and new. (But not a love affair that trumps that one I already have with chocolate chip cookies, of course.)

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If not for having made these before, they would be just the type of dessert I love to make – something a little different, but based on familiar flavors that people enjoy. Also there is cream cheese.

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Of course my desire to constantly try new things has led me to so many fun and delicious recipes, but this one makes me a little nostalgic for the old days. It’s easy, it’s handheld, it works for any season – really, it’s such a great dessert. I would make it more often if there weren’t thousands of other great desserts calling my name.

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Key Lime Bars (from Cook’s Illustrated)

Crust:
5 ounces animal crackers (about 1¼ cups crumbs)
3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar packed
pinch salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling:
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg yolk
½ cup key lime juice or regular juice (do not use bottled juice)

Garnish (optional):
shredded coconut, toasted until crisp

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut about a 12-inch length of extra-wide heavy duty foil; fold the cut edges back to form a 7½-inch width. With the folded sides facing down, fit the foil securely into the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch square baking pan, allowing the excess to overhang the pan sides. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.

2. To make the crust: In the workbowl of a food processor, pulse the animal crackers until they’re broken down, about ten 1-second pulses; then process the crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds. Add the brown sugar and salt; process to combine, ten to twelve 1-second pulses. Drizzle the butter over the crumbs and pulse until the crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Press the crumbs evenly and firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while making the filling. Do not turn off the oven.

3. To make the filling: While the crust cools, in a medium bowl, stir the cream cheese, zest and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add the sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until it’s incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain; whisk in the egg yolk. Add the lime juice and whisk gently until incorporated (the mixture will thicken slightly).

4. To assemble and bake: Pour the filling into the crust; spread to the corners and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Bake until set and the edges begin to pull away slightly from the sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1½ hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

5. Loosen the edges with paring knife and lift the bars from the baking pan using the foil extensions; cut the bars into 16 squares. Sprinkle with toasted coconut if using, and serve. (Leftovers can be refrigerated up to two days; crust will soften slightly. Let stand at room temperature, about 15 minutes before serving.)

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panko-crusted salmon

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Dave cooks now, and it is awesome for a number of reasons. Supposedly, it gives me a break from cooking, except I tend to use the free time to make cookies, but, that is still awesome. He chooses different sorts of recipes than I do, so it’s fun to have more variety. Mostly, it’s just nice to be in the kitchen together, doing one of my favorite things. And it provides me with plenty of – much needed – practice in only offering advice when it’s requested.

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So far, Dave is only cooking fish. This is also awesome, because fish is complicated in the desert – finding out how to get it so it’s fresh, which types are sustainable, that sort of stuff. I’m glad he took this on because my method was mostly to stock up on frozen tilapia in Albuquerque or wait for the wild salmon in the summer. Dave, on the other hand, has made friends with the fish lady at the grocery store.

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The vast majority of the recipes he makes are from Mark Bittman’s Fish cookbook, but I keep an eye out for quick and easy fish recipes to send his way, and this was one of those. While he mixed bread crumbs with lemon zest and herbs, I roasted asparagus, chased Dave around with a camera, and baked a cake. It was, as I might have mentioned, awesome*.

*Even more awesome? Dave wants to write the occasional guest post with some of his favorite fish recipes. Fun! I can’t wait.

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Panko-Crusted Salmon
(adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy is That via Annie’s Eats)

4 servings

⅔ cup panko
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the panko, parsley, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss with a fork until the crumbs are evenly coated; set aside.

2. Place the salmon fillets skin side down on a work surface. Generously brush the top of each fillet with the mustard, then season with salt and pepper. Press the panko mixture thickly on top of the mustard on each fillet.

3. In a 12-inch oven-safe nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and sear for 3-4 minutes without turning to brown the skin. (If you don’t want to eat the skin, this step also helps the skin stick to the pan so the fillets can be easily removed without the skin later on.)

4. Transfer the pan to the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the salmon is almost cooked through and the panko is browned. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

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(The asparagus were served over pine nut crema. Very tasty.)

shrimp and avocado ceviche

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Both times I’ve had barbacoa tacos for dinner, I’ve made this the same day – but not as an appetizer. When dinner is one of your absolute favorite foods, an appetizer just takes up valuable stomach space. But I love this dip almost as much as the barbacoa, and they’re a great match, so we have it for lunch instead.

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I appreciate that the shrimp are cooked first. Maybe that’s cheating, maybe that makes it something other than ceviche – I don’t care. It means I can have it without worrying about food poisoning, and that’s good enough for me.

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The cooked shrimp are marinated in lime juice, then mixed with avocados, cucumbers, onions, and cilantro. The dressing is made from more lime juice, olive oil, and, oddly, ketchup. I liked the tomatoey sweetness from the ketchup, but I didn’t like a lot of it – the second time I made this, I cut the ketchup down by half, and next time, I’ll use just half of that.

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Not that a little extra ketchupiness has stopped this from being my new favorite chip topper – yes, even more so than plain guacamole.  It has the avocado I love, but balanced by all this citrusy crunch.  This for lunch and barbacoa tacos for dinner make for a ridiculously good day of eating.

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One year ago: Fish Tacos
Two years ago: Tartine Country Bread
Three years ago: Spinach Artichoke Pizza
Four years ago: Tofu Mu Shu
Five years ago: Crockpot Pulled Pork

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Shrimp and Avocado Ceviche (adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexico One Plate at a Time via epicurious)

6 servings

I used 51/60 shrimp for this. The second time, I cut the shrimp in half after peeling so that they’d be about the same size as everything else in the dip – better for getting all sorts of goodies on a single chip.

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 pound unpeeled small shrimp
½ medium white onion, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or a mix)
2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and cubed
salt
Several lime slices for garnish
tortilla chips for serving

1. In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil; add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and the shrimp. Cover the saucepan and let the water return to a boil. Once it boils, immediately remove the pot from the heat and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 8 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Once cook, peel and devein the shrimp. Toss the shrimp with the remaining ½ cup lime juice; cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

2. After the shrimp has marinated, in a small strainer, rinse the diced onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, olive oil, cucumber and/or jicama, avocado, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

3. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls; garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tortilla chips.

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pasta with broccoli, chickpeas, and garlic

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Have I told you that we’re moving? In just a few days, in fact. It isn’t a big move as far as distance, as our new house is just a 15-minute drive away from our old one, but it is big as far as life steps. Having spent the majority of our twenties in graduate school, we watched our friends buy houses while we were still solidly in apartment mode. We’ve rented a nice little house for the last three years since we moved to New Mexico, but now, finally, we’re acting like grown-ups and buying our own place.

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The process hasn’t been without its hiccups. Who knew that ordering lighting fixtures would be so complicated? I keep telling myself that, when we’re settled and I have bright and colorful pendants hanging over the breakfast bar, it’ll be worth it, but for now, I just wish we could find lights that aren’t actually purple when the website says they’re cobalt, or lights with cords that are long enough, or lights that work with the slopes of our vaulted ceilings. Not to mention the hours of packing, visits to the bank, trips to Lowe’s, and oh yeah, we’re going on vacation a week after closing.

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When we’re not eating leftovers from the freezer, we’ve been eating a lot of quick meals like this one. Even better, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying those bags of pre-cut broccoli, which shaves another ten minutes off of prep time. At that point, it’s just an issue of boiling pasta while pan-roasting broccoli, pressing garlic into the pan with a pinch of red pepper flakes, and mixing everything together with a whole lot of lemon juice and parmesan to up the flavor ante. Dinner is served in no time at all, which means I can get back to procrastinating on packing by shopping for light fixtures.

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One year ago: Star Wars Cookies
Two years ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Three years ago: Roll-out Sugar Cookies (comparison of 3 recipes)
Four years ago: Roasted Kale
Five years ago: Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Pasta with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Garlic (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Serves 6

Pasta dishes like this tend to cool quickly after being transferred to serving dishes, so I like to warm the empty bowls in an oven heated to about 200 degrees.

16 ounces whole wheat pasta
salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 (12-ounce) bags fresh chopped broccoli (or 3 heads of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces)
12 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
juice from 1 lemon
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

1. Bring 4 quarts water to a rapid boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Before draining the cooked pasta, put about 1 cup pasta cooking water in a separate bowl and set aside. Return the drained pasta to the cooking pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the broccoli and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green and browned in spots, 4-5 minutes. Add ¼ cup water; cover the pan for 1 minute to cook the broccoli through. Remove the lid and push the broccoli to the edges of the pan. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the garlic, and the red pepper flakes to the center of the pan. Cook, stirring constantly and excluding the broccoli as much as possible, for about 1 minute, then add the chickpeas and stir the mixture into the broccoli. Add the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon salt.

3. Transfer the broccoli to the pot with the pasta, stirring to incorporate. Add about half of the reserved pasta cooking water and 1 cup of cheese, stirring until the cheese melts evenly over the pasta. Taste and adjust for seasoning with more salt, lemon juice, or parmesan. Add more pasta cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Serve immediately in warmed bowls.

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lemon ginger scones

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I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now, years actually, that scones would be a perfect treat to bring in to work. I could do most of the work the night or weekend beforehand and then just bake them in the morning before work. It would be easy for me, and my coworkers would have fresh scones to go with their morning coffee.

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It sounds good in theory. In reality, it was a harried morning of showering, emptying the dishwasher, making smoothies, chugging my morning tea, skipping a couple makeup steps, hoping the blue of my scarf didn’t clash too much with the blue of my shirt, oh and garnishing, baking, cooling, and snapping a few very quick pictures of lemon-ginger scones.

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So I was wrong about the convenience of baking scones in the morning before work. But I was right about my coworkers loving them. It was a nice morning of compliments – not on my outfit with its clashing blues, obviously, but the tender and slightly spicy scones made up for the unavoidable shortcomings that resulted from my rushed morning.

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One year ago: Pasta with Tiny Meatball Sauce
Two years ago: Stromboli
Three years ago: Baked Ziti
Four years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Five years ago: Deviled Eggs with Tuna

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Lemon-Ginger Scones (inspired by Bon Appetit’s Lemon Cream Scones, but when I realized I didn’t have nearly enough cream, I adapted Tartine’s Buttermilk Scones instead)

Serves about 8

As always, you can freeze scones after shaping, before baking. Bake directly from the freezer, adding 2-3 minutes to the baking time.

2½ (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
3 teaspoons lemon zest, plus 1 teaspoon
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes, very cold
2 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped fine
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2.Pulse the flour, ¼ cup sugar, 3 teaspoons lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor until evenly mixed.  Scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients and pulse until the largest bits of butter are no larger than peas.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the ginger, then the buttermilk.  Knead a few times to bring the dough together.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, pat the dough out to ½-inch round.  Cut the round into 8 wedges or use cutters to cut other shapes.

4. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet.  Rub the remaining 1 teaspoon of zest into the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Brush the scones with the melted butter and top with the sugar mixture.  Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 16-20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

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pepper-crusted salmon with wasabi dipping sauce

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This is one of the best new meals I’ve made recently. The salmon was perfectly browned on top but still juicy in the middle. The Old Bay and lemon were interesting matches with the wasabi and ginger, but it definitely worked. The watercress and avocado salad I served the salmon with was the perfect bright balance to the umami-rich fish and soy sauce dip. The meal had a few of my favorite sushi components, with the fish, wasabi, and avocado, but it went a different direction with the salad and Old Bay.

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It was an unusually light weekend dinner for us. Usually those tend to include a lot more carbs and red meat. It isn’t rare that they also require a serious investment of time in the kitchen, and this recipe differs from that routine as well.

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In fact, there is absolutely no reason this wouldn’t fit right in with our weekday routine of healthy and quick meals. And that’s good news, because there are more weeknights than weekends, and that means more opportunities to make this dish.

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One year ago: Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
Two years ago: Beer-Marinated Flank Steak
Three years ago: Zucchini Bread
Four years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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Pepper-Crusted Salmon with Wasabi-Lemon Dipping Sauce (adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue! via epicurious and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Glazed Salmon recipe)

Serves 4

I served this with Avocado and Watercress Salad (without the apple), and it was absolutely perfect.

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup soy sauce
1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

For the salmon:
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the wasabi powder and water until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes to enhance the wasabi flavors, then add the remaining sauce ingredients.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Old Bay, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. Rub into the flesh (not the skin) of the salmon. Season with a generous layer of coarsely ground black pepper, pressing the pepper into the salmon.

3. Heat the oil in a nonstick 12-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer the salmon to the pan, flesh-side down. Cook without moving for 1 minute, then flip and cook for another minute. Transfer the skillet to the oven; cook 8-10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the salmon reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Serve immediately.

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orange vanilla creamsicle whoopie pies

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I brought pumpkin whoopie pies to a company picnic a couple years ago, and my coworkers got quite a kick over the name. So you’ll forgive me if the post-it next to these in the office kitchen said “orange vanilla creamsicle sandwich cookies”, with no mention of whoopie. I didn’t need the giggles today.

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I’m not sure if these are more whoopie pie or more sandwich cookie anyway. The cookie part ended up on the chewy side, not as tender and fluffy as the traditional cakey whoopie pie. At least it seemed that way to me fresh out of the oven.

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Sandwiched with cream cheese frosting and left overnight in the fridge, they seem to have become more cakey, because the several coworkers I quizzed about whether these seemed more cookie-like or more cake-like guessed cake. (They didn’t seem excited about the pop quiz, but they passed with flying colors.) More importantly, they raved, so whoopie pies or sandwich cookies, it doesn’t matter; all that matters is how good they are.

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One year ago: Blueberry Barbecue Salmon
Two years ago: Rhubarb Crumb Coffee Cake
Three years ago: Quick Baking Powder Pizza Crust
Four years ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

Printer Friendly Recipe
Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Whoopie Pies (adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

Makes about 3 dozen sandwiches

If you have vanilla sugar, use that!

I am a food blogger failure and used cream cheese frosting that I’ve had in my freezer for months, doctored up with vanilla seeds.

Cookies:
3½ cups (16.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoon baking powder 2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
zest from 2 oranges
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
½ cup sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature

Filling:
3 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
pinch salt
1½ cups (6 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position; preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and orange zest on medium speed until fragrant, about a minute. Add the butter, salt, and vanilla seeds; continue beating until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sour cream. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until combined.

3. Spoon (or pipe) the batter in 1 tablespoon rounds on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between rounds.

4. Bake until the tops of the cookies don’t look wet and the bottoms just begin to brown, 8-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. For the filling: Add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla seeds, and salt to a clean mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract.

6. To fill, dollop (or pipe) the filling onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies, flat sides down. Serve immediately, or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, bringing to cool room temperature before serving.

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