shitake mushroom and lentil asian tacos

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Vegetarian food, for me, means something quick and easy, healthy, perfect for a weeknight dinner. There’s no fussing with the handwashing of cooking with chicken, no long braising times. Most are one-bowl meals that don’t require side dishes. The exceptions to these rules invariably include lots of cheese, almost certainly pasta, and a long prep time – and are relegated to weekend meals.

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Few and far between are vegetarian meals that are not only healthy and delicious, but also feel special. This is one. First, it’s tacos, and I’m not out of my taco phase. Second, so many fillings and toppings in the tacos satisfy all sorts of flavor and texture desires.

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The mushroom-lentil mixture has plenty of ingredients that kick up the umami sensation that usually comes from meat. The miso and soy sauce in the sauce don’t hurt either, but the sauce is about more than just umami; it’s sweet and herbal and a bit sour from the rice vinegar. There’s crunch from the carrots and the buttery richness of avocados. All of it combines to form a special occasional dish that is perfectly healthy and not just vegetarian, but vegan. It’s a far cry from most of my favorite vegetarian dishes, and I love it.

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Shitake Mushroom and Lentil Asian Tacos (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4 to 6

I toasted the garlic, while still peeled, in a small not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the papery peel started to brown on a few sides. This softens the bite of raw garlic, making it sweeter and more mellow.

My favorite new way to soften corn tortillas for tacos is to spray both sides of them with oil, then heat them in a 400 degree oven until pliable, about 5 minutes. Even better, add some of the mushroom-lentil mixture to the tortillas at that point and fold the tortilla over the filling; continue baking until the tortilla starts to crisp, another 3-5 minutes.

I grew radish sprouts just for this recipe, but they didn’t sprout in time. Bummer. They made a good garnish for avocado and shrimp-filled tortilla cups the next day though.

Miso herb sauce:
3 garlic cloves, peeled (see note)
2 packed cups basil leaves
1 packed cup cilantro
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Tacos:
¾ cup brown or green lentils
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly diced
12 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
about 16 corn tortillas, warmed (see note)
2 large or 3 small avocados, peeled and sliced
5 small carrots, peeled and grated
micro greens, for garnish (see note)

1. For the sauce: Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the cutting blade; process until minced. Add the herbs and process until pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the sauce is evenly mixed. Transfer to a serving bowl; set aside.

2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and release their liquid. Once the liquid evaporates, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and cook until the mushrooms and onions brown. Stir in the cooked lentils and the cider vinegar.

4. Stuff each tortilla with the mushroom-lentil mixture, carrots, avocado, microgreens, and miso-herb sauce. Serve immediately.

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asparagus bacon and egg salad

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I have a nephew who is so picky that he wouldn’t eat blueberries in the middle of the summer. Blueberries! They might as well be candy that happens to be good for you. He was in elementary school then, but things aren’t much better now that he’s starting high school in the fall. Last winter, he balked at asparagus.

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Dave, understanding teenaged boys all too well because he still thinks like one (I dare you to tell him a poop joke), found the trick to making picky adolescents eat asparagus – tell them that their pee will smell like asparagus later. For better or worse, this is a phenomenon I have never noticed myself. My nephew choked down a few spears, but either it wasn’t enough or he isn’t subject to the asparagus pee smell either, because he responded in the negative when we quizzed him the next day.

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If you’re less interested in discussing (I accidentally typed “disgusting” first, which probably isn’t a coincidence) the smell of urine at the dinner table, perhaps adding bacon is a better way to make asparagus seem tempting. With eggs added as well, this is more like breakfast than a salad – which is exactly how I like my salads, as a light meal masquerading as a decadent one.  Not being a huge fan of asparagus myself, this might be my favorite way to eat it – and I, personally, find the lack of asparagus pee the next day to be a relief.

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Bacon Egg and Asparagus Salad (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table via A Taste of Home Cooking)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bunches (about 2 pounds) asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 ounces (about 4 slices) bacon, diced
6-8 eggs
4 cups spring mix
1 avocado, peeled and diced

Dressing:
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat to 450 degrees. Once hot, spread the oil over the pan and add the asparagus; season with salt and pepper and stir to coat with oil. Return the pan with the asparagus to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.

2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all about 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Crack the eggs into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and add 2 tablespoons of water. Immediately cover the pan and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolks are soft.

3. Mix all of the dressing ingredients.

4. Combine the spring mix, avocado, bacon, asparagus, and dressing. Top each serving with 1-2 eggs.

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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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beef barbacoa

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I am going through a taco phase, and it might have started out with these. Well, mostly I just really like tacos, because who doesn’t, but things have ramped up in recent weeks. We’ve had all sorts of tasty fillings recently, but it’s hard to beat barbacoa.

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Barbacoa has so many satisfying flavors – it’s a little sweet, a little sour with a squeeze of lime juice, plenty meaty of course. It definitely has a spicy kick. It’s coated in a rich layer of sauce that delivers loads of flavor, with nothing left behind in the pot.

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It only gets better with toppings. Avocado is arguably my favorite part of most tacos (not these; the barbacoa wins by a mile), and queso fresco is the perfect salty fresh compliment to the rich meat. Those two and a wedge of lime are my only requirements, but pickled onions and a smattering of cilantro are nice too.

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This isn’t a hard recipe, although it’s far from fast. The long ingredient list looks worse than it is. There’s a lot of spices, chiles, and condiments, but nothing other than an onion and some garlic require a cutting board. Not even the beef needs to be sliced or cut into cubes. What I thought was going to be a significant project took me about half an hour.

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Of course, you don’t actually get to eat until almost 5 hours layer, after the beef has become tender and rich and the broth has been reduced down to a sauce. It’s getting warm out and you might not want to leave your oven on for four hours while the beef cooks, but the result is worth some air-conditioning. Plus, it reheats great, maybe even better than it was the first day. I have to admit that I haven’t really been in a taco phase, just a barbacoa phase. I’ve got one more batch stored in the freezer, and I can’t wait.

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One year ago: California Roll Burgers
Two years ago: Basic Coleslaw
Three years ago: Quinoa Tabbouleh
Four years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Five years ago: Ricotta Spinach and Tofu Ravioli

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Beef Barbacoa
(very slightly adapted from The Food Lab on Serious Eats)

About 6 servings

I think the crockpot is a definite possibility here, but it’ll take you a lot longer to reduce the liquid to a sauce after the cooking time.  You’ll still need to brown the oxtails and onions beforehand, because that adds tons of flavor.  That’s an easy tradeoff to save 4 hours of oven use when the weather’s warm!

If you can’t find these exact types of chiles, any combination of mild, fruity and bright-tasting chiles will do, such as guajillo or Colorado.  I used a New Mexico, an ancho, and an arbol chile.  I couldn’t find oxtails either, so I used beef ribs.

1 whole dried New Mexico, costeño, or choricero chili, seeds and stem removed
1 whole chile ancho or pasilla, seeds and stem removed
1 whole chile negro, seeds and stem removed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 pound oxtails
1 small onion, diced
6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 chipotle chiles packed in adobo, chopped, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 whole chuck roast (about 4 pounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 whole bay leaves
Kosher salt
Warm corn tortillas, avocados, queso fresco, pickled onions, cilantro, salsa, limes, and other condiments for serving

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Place the dried chiles in the bottom of a large Dutch oven and heat over high heat. Cook, turning the chiles with tongs occasionally, until fragrant and toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a small saucepan and cover with 2 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until chiles are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the now-empty Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Cook the oxtails until they’re well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove the oxtails and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium.

3. Add the remaining two tablespoons oil and heat along with the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until deep brown and just starting to burn, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, cloves, and oregano, and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chipotle chiles, vinegar, and remaining chicken broth. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, simmer until reduced by about half, then transfer the entire contents to the jar of a blender.

4. Add the soaked chiles and their liquid to the blender along with the fish sauce. Start the blender on low (be careful of blowups!) and slowly increase the speed to high. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside.

5. Place the beef roast in the Dutch oven. Add the browned oxtails, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, the bay leaves, and the sauce. Bring to a boil over high heat. Place the lid on the pot, slightly cracked, then transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the beef occasionally, until completely tender and a cake tester or metal skewer inserted into the meat shows little to no resistance, about 4 hours. Discard the bay leaves and oxtails (meat from oxtails can be eaten if desired). Transfer the chuck to a large plate. Return the Dutch oven to the stovetop, and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 1½ cups, about 5 minutes.

6. Beef can be shredded and served immediately or transferred to a sealed container along with the liquid and refrigerate up to five days. When ready to serve, shred into large chunks with your fingers or two forks. Return the beef to a pot along with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook, gently stirring and folding until the beef is hot, tender, and coated in sauce. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately, piling the beef into warm corn tortillas with onions, queso fresco, avocados, cilantro, salsa, limes, or other condiments as desired.

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braised potatoes

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I don’t live in a world (okay, a town) where there are duck fat fries. People are always raving about them – except for the few who claim they’re not all that – but my opportunities to try duck fat anything have been limited. So I do what I usually do when I can’t find a restaurant to serve me something I want to try: I make it myself.

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Not that I set out to cook with duck fat; mostly I just stumbled onto a container of it at Whole Foods on my last visit to see my parents in Albuquerque. Also I didn’t exactly make fries, but close enough.

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On my first attempt to discover what makes potatoes cooked in duck fat so popular, I simply melted a half-inch or so of the fat in a nonstick pan, added the potatoes cut-side down, and let them cook until they were tender inside and nicely browned on the flat edges. They were just fine, but I didn’t see what the fuss was about.

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I was planning to give it another try one evening – after all, I had a container of duck fat with no other plans for it – when, a few hours before dinner, I read about Cook’s Illustrated’s braised new potato recipe in their latest issue. In this technique, the potatoes are cooked in a mixture of water, seasonings, and fat (the original recipe uses butter). The water tenderizes the potatoes, and when it evaporates, the potatoes brown in the fat.

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These are now a contender for my favorite potatoes ever. I still haven’t tried it with butter, which I’m sure is delicious, but the duck fat makes the kitchen smell like the best of Thanksgiving.  The inside of the potatoes are soft and creamy, and the flat edge is crisp and browned.  I see what all the fuss is about now.

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One year ago: California Roll Burgers
Two years ago: Lemon Bar (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Grilled Artichokes
Four years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Five years ago: Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar

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Braised Red Potatoes with Lemon (from Cooks Illustrated)

Did I mention that they’re almost entirely hands-off?

1½ pounds small red potatoes, unpeeled, halved
2 cups water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 sprigs fresh thyme
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

1. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer, cut-side down, in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Add the water, butter, garlic, thyme, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer until potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Remove the lid and use a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic to a cutting board; discard the thyme. Increase the heat to medium-high and vigorously simmer, swirling pan occasionally, until the water evaporates and the butter starts to sizzle, 15-20 minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, mince the garlic to a paste.  Transfer the paste to a bowl and stir in the lemon juice and pepper.

3. Continue to cook the potatoes, swirling the pan frequently, until the butter browns and the cut sides of the potatoes turn spotty brown, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Off the heat, add the garlic mixture and chives and toss to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately.

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brisket and brie tacos

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My stubbornness knows no bounds or logic, as was evident in the cooking of this brisket. First, I refused to buy Dr. Pepper to use as a braising liquid. Dave and I don’t drink soda, and I’m not really into the whole high fructose corn syrup thing, so I didn’t want to buy a bottle only to use a fraction of it. Beer and honey would provide all the acidity and sweetness the brisket needed.

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I’m also not all that into the crockpot. I like it for certain things, particularly broth, but if I’m home anyway, usually I like the firmer texture and added browning of braising meats in the oven. This has always worked great for pot roast and stews, but I’m not sure it was the best method for much leaner brisket, which can more easily dry out.

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Not that I have any complaints though. Topping the tacos with brie certainly solves any potential problems the low fat content of the meat might have introduced. With a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, stretchy Monterey jack cheese, and slices of creamy avocado, these tacos had plenty going on, despite or because of my stubborn changes.

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One year ago: Pizza with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, and Roasted Tomatoes
Two years ago: Strawberry Daiquiri Ice Cream
Three years ago: Chicken Fajitas
Four years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Five years ago: Blueberry Poppy Seed Brunch Cake

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Brie and Brisket Tacos (adapted from Rebecca Rather’s Pastry Queen via Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Serves 4, with leftover brisket

No one seems to brown brisket. I don’t know why that is, but I browned mine.

Brisket:
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 (3-pound) brisket
salt
ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 (12-ounce) medium-dark beer
2 tablespoons honey

Raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
½ cup ketchup
1 chipotle chile in adobe sauce, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Toppings:
12 corn tortillas, warmed
4 ounces brie, thinly sliced
1 cup (4 ounces) Monterey jack cheese

1. For the brisket: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry, season it generously with salt, pepper, and the chili powder. Transfer the brisket to the Dutch oven and cook, without moving, for about 3 minutes, until deeply browned. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan (but leave the cooked-on brown bits).

2. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the beer into the pot, scraping up the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the honey, then add the meat. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3 hours, turning every hour or so.

3. For the sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it runs like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ketchup, chile, lemon juice, raspberries, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender in the saucepan or by transferring the sauce to a blender.

4. When the brisket is tender, either slice it or shred it, leaving behind large chunks of fat. Layer brisket, sauce, brie, and Monterey jack cheese in the tortillas (plus Hatch green chile and avocado if you can’t imagine tacos with them). Serve immediately.

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stuffed mascarpone strawberries

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We moved into the new house! And less than a week later, we went on vacation! And now we’re back, and although we don’t have internet or television at home, and there are no curtains or pictures hung, and we haven’t bought mirrors for the bathrooms, it’s safe to say that we’re settling in. The kitchen is unpacked and has been through multiple rounds of tweaking, and what else matters?

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With the move, the vacation, and a couple big projects at work, March got a little crazy. It started off with a visit from a friend, here to interview for a job at our company. Which, by the way, she got, so she and her husband will be moving out to our little New Mexican town sometime this summer. After her interview, we showed her around town, but there really isn’t much to see, so we spent most of the evening hanging out at home, drinking wine and eating a nice meal.

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I’d forgotten that she eats like a bird, so I’m glad I kept dessert light. Fruit is a nice ending to a meal of salad, shrimp, bread, and lasagna, but plain fruit is a snack that I eat several times a day. Stuffing the berries with a lightly sweetened and spiced creamy mixture was the perfect way to make these a treat worthy of being called dessert. Plus, it was easy, and last month, easy was extremely important.

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One year ago: Strawberry Lemonade Bars
Two years ago: Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries and Pecans
Three years ago: Vodka Gimlet
Four years ago: Black Bean Squash Burritos
Five years ago: Scotch Eggs

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Stuffed Mascarpone Strawberries (adapted from The Quinces and the Pea via Pink Parsley)

1 pound strawberries, rinsed and dried
½ cup mascarpone cheese
⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
½ teaspoon cardamom
cinnamon, for sprinkling

1. Halve each strawberry through the stem-end, and use a melon baller or paring knife to scoop out part of the middle.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the mascarpone, cream, sugar, vanilla, and cardamom until soft peaks form. Using a piping bag fitted with corner snipped off (or a round tip), fill each strawberry with the cream. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon; serve.

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chipotle shrimp

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One of the disadvantages-that-isn’t of living in New Mexico is that, with year-round access to a freezer full of Hatch green chiles, pretty much every other chile gets neglected. In the first three years after we moved here, I didn’t cook with poblanos, serranos, anaheims, or even chipotle chiles.  Hatch green (and, not as often, red) chile was the focus.

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This year we spent four hours peeling, seeding, chopping, and freezing Hatch green chiles only to realize afterward that this batch was a dud, with no flavor at all.  It’s unfortunate, but our pizzas, burgers, and beans have all been disappointing since we’ve started rationing out last year’s far superior chiles.  We’re impatient for next year’s harvest, but we’ve got five months to go.

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The upside is a resurgence of alternate chiles in our kitchen. Last week I made some smoky guacamole with roasted red peppers and poblanos, and chipotles are no longer languishing in the back of the freezer, forgotten. This recipe is a significant contribution to the disappearing chipotles, because any dish that takes twenty minutes to deliver a healthy bowl of spicy sauce and shellfish is going to be a favorite. Next year, it’ll be even better, when I use chipotles together with Hatch chiles, but for now, chipotles are all I’ve got.

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One year ago: Tomato and Four Cheese Lasagne
Two years ago: Shrimp Canapés a la Suede
Three years ago: Mediterranean Pepper Salad
Four years ago: Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Five years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Chipotle Shrimp (adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Pink Parsley)

Serves 4 as a main course

1 (28-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes in juice
2-3 canned chipotles en adobo
1 tablespoon chipotle canning sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
salt
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup rice, cooked (about 3 cups cooked rice)
about ¼ cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro

1. Process the tomatoes, chipotle chiles, chipotle sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt in the blender until pureed.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato mixture and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste and season with salt if necessary.

3. Add the shrimp to the pan, and cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp are pink and curled up, about 6 minutes. Serve over rice with cilantro.

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green pig macarons (green tea macarons with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream)

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These might have come out okay in the end, but it was looking bleak at first – and in the middle, and even a bit toward the end. I might have been overly confident when I agreed to make shaped macarons, with just one previous attempt at the notoriously finicky cookie. To make matters worse, the inspiration blog entry was written in Hebrew.

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I’m not the first person to make shaped macarons, but most people are using the traditional method for macarons, the one I used last year, in which egg whites are beaten with granulated sugar until stiff peaks form, then almond meal and powdered sugar are folded into the mixture. It’s fussy – the egg whites need to be aged overnight, just the right amount of folding is necessary to deflate the meringue just so, and the piped batter needs to sit at room temperature for an hour before baking. Annie promised to have a simpler, more dependable method, and I wanted to try it.

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In this method, half of the egg whites are mixed into the almond meal and powdered sugar; the other half are whipped into a meringue with hot sugar syrup, then folded into the pasty almond meal mixture. The cookies are piped and baked immediately.

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It sounded simple enough, but things started going wrong early on. First I ran out of almond meal, which I discovered after I’d measured out egg whites, sugar, and water to the gram. I had some slivered (not blanched; they still had skins) almonds in the pantry, so I ground those up and mixed them into the batter. One obstacle was overcome.

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My next mistake was adding too much of the meringue mixture to the almond meal mixture. You’re only supposed to add as much of the meringue mixture for “thick ribbons to batter to run off the spatula”, but that required all of the meringue for me, and at that point, the batter was too loose, and the cookies spread when I piped them.

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My next problem – there was always a next problem on this particular day – was trying to get the nose and ears on top of the main body of the cookie. Eventually I found that the best method seemed to be baking the plain macarons for the specified time, then piping the nose and ears on the firm surface of the cookie and rebaking them for a few minutes until the smaller portions set. The cookies seemed no worse for the extra time in the oven.

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It’s a good thing that the Angry Birds pigs aren’t pristine shapes even in their original format on the game, because my cookies were anything but round, with ears of indeterminate size and shape. Sometimes the ears blended right into the rest of the cookie; sometimes the noses caved in. And by this point, my kitchen was covered in macaron batter, which, by the way, turns into concrete when it dries, and my bread dough was overrising while seemingly infinite batches of macarons hogged the oven.

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The piggie faces, thankfully, were mostly saved by the addition of nostrils and pupils. Eyebrowns drawn on with a edible marker didn’t hurt either. And I think it speaks volumes about the dependability of this recipe that with all my foibles, the macarons rose enough to somewhat form those elusive foamy feet. (Not that my troubles were completely over.) But while they might not be as pristine as I had intended, the 6-year-old birthday boy didn’t seem to mind. I’m going to call this kitchen battle conquered, though it wasn’t easy.

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One year ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies
Two years ago: Fettuccini Alfredo
Three years ago: Toasted Vegetable Subs
Four years ago: Red Velvet Cake (comparison of 5 recipes)
Five years ago: Vanilla Frosting (comparison of 4 recipes)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Green Pig Macarons (Green Tea Macarons with Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream) (adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 24 sandwich cookies

The very small amounts of almond meal, powdered sugar, and egg whites are for the white eyes. If you’re just making regular green tea macarons, you can skip that.

Where I went wrong with the batter was adding too much meringue. Once I got to the point where I had thick ribbons of batter, it was definitely too much meringue and the batter was too loose, spreading on the baking sheet. All I can recommend to correct this, until I gain more experience with macaron-making, is that you watch for VERY thick ribbons of batter falling off the spatula.

Green tea cookies:
212 grams almond meal, plus 16 grams
212 grams powdered sugar, plus 16 grams
1½ teaspoons matcha powder
82 and 90 grams egg whites, plus 6 grams (about 6 eggs total)
236 grams granulated sugar, plus ¼ teaspoon
158 grams water

Vanilla bean buttercream:
2 egg whites
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
pinch table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
seeds from ½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit one pastry bag with a ½-inch round tip and two with ¼-inch round tips (for the white eyes and the green ears and nose).

2. In a large bowl, combine the 212 grams almond meal, 212 grams powdered sugar, and matcha powder. Whisk together to blend and break up any clumps. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in 82 grams of the egg whites. Blend the egg whites into the dry ingredients until evenly mixed. The mixture will be thick and paste-like. For the white eyes, in a small bowl, mix together the 16 grams of powdered sugar, 16 grams of almond meal, and 6 grams of egg whites.

3. Combine 236 grams granulated sugar and the water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When the temperature is around 210 degrees, combine the 90 gram portion of egg whites with ¼ teaspoon sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Begin whipping on medium-low speed. Continue whipping the whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. If soft peaks are achieved before the syrup reaches the target temperature, reduce the speed to low to keep the whites moving.

4. Once the syrup reaches 248 degrees, immediately remove it from the heat. Increase the mixer speed to medium and pour the syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and whip the meringue until stiff, glossy peaks form.

5. Add one third of the meringue mixture to the bowl with the almond mixture with the matcha. Fold in gently until the mixture is smooth. A bit at a time, gently fold in the remaining meringue until the batter is smooth and runs in thick ribbons off of the spatula. You may not need all of the meringue, so add it gradually. Repeat the process with the white batter.

6. Add most of the green batter to the pastry bag with the ½-inch tip. Hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet about ½-inch above the surface of the pan. Steadily pipe rounds about 1¼- to 1½-inches in diameter. The batter may create small peaks immediately after piping, but if it is the correct texture these will smooth themselves away after a minute or two. If the batter is too stiff, the peaks will remain and the tops of the shells may not be totally smooth. If the batter is too thin, the rounds will spread further.

7. For the ears: Transfer some green batter to a piping bag with a ¼-inch tip. Pipe small ears adjacent to the larger circles of batter.

8. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for 9-12 minutes, until the tops are smooth and set and “feet” have formed around the bottom.

9. Transfer the white batter to a piping bag with an ⅛-inch tip. Remove the baked cookies from the oven and immediately pipe on a green nose in the middle of the circle and 2 white eyes to the side of the nose. Return the cookies to the oven for 3-4 minutes, until the nose and eyes are set. Add noses and eyes only to every other batch; the backs of the sandwiches will just need ears.

10. Transfer the baking sheet with the cookies to a cooling rack; cool 5 minutes, then peel the cookies away from the parchment and transfer to a cooling rack. Repeat as needed with the remaining batter, replacing the parchment paper with each batch, bringing the oven temperature back up to 350 degrees before baking each sheet.

11. For the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

12. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add the vanilla seeds and extract; mix until incorporated.

13. To assemble: Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies. Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

Thirteen steps, and I forgot to tell you how to make the project-saving eyes and nostrils. Powdered sugar + milk + food coloring, stirred until smooth and dripped off the end of a toothpick.  Tedious, but it got the job done.

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cinnamon macarons with apple buttercream

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Macarons have been all the rage recently, and yet, I’ve had no real desire to make them myself. This, even though they’re known to be finicky, and I do love making my life unnecessarily complicated. But while I do love a challenge, I don’t particularly love meringue cookies.

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This is probably because I’ve never gotten them quite right, as they always seem to be chewy in the center instead of crisp the whole way through. Maybe the precise directions included with many macaron recipes could help me avoid this pitfall. If not, at least they’d be filled with swiss meringue buttercream.

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One of the hallmarks of good macarons is the foamy feet around the bottom edge, which show that your macarons rose up in the oven instead of spreading out. When I started to see those feet form, I made Dave come over to look through the oven window with me and give me a high-five. I was also happy with the smooth tops of the cookies, and it goes without saying that I was happy with the apple buttercream, which was noticeably and pleasantly appley.

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The only problem? A chewy center. I guess practice makes perfect. Fortunately, I think it’s safe to say that meringues are good enough to make again.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

Printer Friendly Recipe
Cinnamon Macarons with Apple Buttercream (adapted from Tartelette)

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies

For a lot of meringue-making tips, read Tartelette’s article.

Meringues:
110 grams blanched almonds or almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), aged overnight
25 grams sugar
Pinch salt

Apple buttercream:
4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup apple butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, process the almonds and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed (high speed if using a stand mixer) until soft peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the nut mixture into the egg mixture. After about 50 folds, the batter should be evenly mixed, with no streaks of egg white.

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Spray the lined sheets lightly with cooking spray. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a wide (about ½-inch) round tip. Pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared pans, leaving about an inch between rounds. Gently rap the baking sheet against the counter to pop any large bubbles. Set the piped dough aside for 1 hour.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are lightly browned around the bottom edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack; cool for about 5 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer the cookies from the pan to the wire rack. Cool completely before filling.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

5. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add apple butter and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

6. Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

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