blueberry lemon date bars

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Dave and I had a Serious Discussion last year about hiking. He loves it; I’m okay with it. I like the part that involves relaxing exercise (usually an oxymoron) in a pretty place, but not the part that requires several hours of driving. Dave doesn’t love the driving either, but for him, it’s worth it for the hiking. So we’ve compromised and are making more of an effort to get miles in; Dave’s goal this year is 100 miles.

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The more often we go, the more we get into a routine. Make coffee at home; stop for breakfast burritos to eat on the road; almonds, these bars, and camelbaks full of water for snacks; and a grain or pasta-based salad for lunch if it’s a long enough hike. Having a series of tasty foods lined up definitely helps get me motivated.

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Breakfast burritos win as my favorite food of the day, of course, but these bars are delicious too. They’re a perfect mid-morning treat, when you’re just over halfway up the mountain, the burrito has worn off, lunch is still a ways off, and your feet could use a break. They’re easy to make and last a while tightly wrapped in the fridge. I need to keep a stock handy; the easier it is to get out the door, the more likely we are to get those miles in.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Blueberry Lemon Date Bars (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter)

Makes 8 bars

I should probably mention that I’ve never eaten a real Larabar, blueberry or otherwise.

I’ve found that these are great for plane rides too.

2 cups unsalted cashews
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup dates, pitted
grated zest from 1 lemon
⅛ teaspoon salt
seeds of ½ vanilla bean

Transfer the cashews to the bowl of a food processor; pulse until coarsely ground. Add the blueberries, dates, lemon zest, salt, and vanilla seeds; process until the mixture forms large sticky clumps. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with parchment or wax paper, with the paper coming up the sides by several inches. Press the mixture tightly into the lined pan. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to several days). Use the ends of the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Cut into 8 bars; wrap individually. Can be stored in the refrigerator for several months.

coconut cake

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I’ve been plastering pictures of this cake on all of my social media outlets, and I’m starting to feel like quite the attention whore, but I’m just so dang proud of it. The decorations are cute; the buttercream is smooth; the tiers are centered. The railroad tracks have wood grain! And then, someone at the shower told me it was the best cake she’d ever eaten.

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Not only that, but there were no tears in the making of this cake. There was certainly struggle, and there wasn’t as much sleep as I would have liked, and I was sore the next day from all the fondant-kneading, but it was overall a much smoother process than the last fancy cake I made.

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The recipes were all familiar to me, so that helped. I keep meaning to do a comparison of vanilla cakes, but in the meantime, this one has always served me well, so I made that for the bottom layer. The middle was my favorite red velvet cake, and the top was a coconut cake I made years ago. People raved about the coconut cake more than either of the others, which was a surprise to me. The host and I had chose it for the smallest tier because coconut can be polarizing; either you love it or you hate it.

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The cake gets a lot of its flavor from cream of coconut, which seems to me to be the coconut equivalent of sweetened condensed milk. It’s very rich, and very sweet. You can use it to make a calorie-buster of a piña colada, which is maybe why it’s usually sold in the drink section. It also makes great cake – the best cake some people have ever eaten, and the best cake I’ve ever decorated.

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Coconut Cake (from Cook’s Illustrated)

1 large egg plus 5 large egg whites
¾ cup cream of coconut
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces), sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), cut into 12 pieces, softened, but still cool

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour.

2. Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2½ minutes.

4. With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.)

5. Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

6. Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.

7. While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

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carrot-ricotta ravioli

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I recently made potstickers, and it reminded me how much easier dumplings like these ravioli are to make with homemade dough than with those little square wonton wrappers. With homemade pasta, you have a long strip of dough; after you drop dollops of filling along the strip, you can just fold the whole thing over at once, sealing the long end before cutting in between the filling. Contrast this with individually folding and sealing each square of dough when you use pre-made wonton wrappers. Granted, my method based on homemade dough can only make square dumplings, but it’s so easy that I’m tempted to make square potstickers from now on to avoid individually sealing each one.

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This is an easy filling too. The carrots and shallots are roasted in large chunks, browning and sweetening in the oven. The vegetables are transferred to the food processor with ricotta and parmesan, and then your filling is made with the touch of a button.

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The sauce, if you can call it that, is simply melted butter with parsley. A generous shaving of parmesan on the ravioli provides some salty contrast to the sweeter filling. Homemade ravioli is one of my favorite starter courses, and it really isn’t that hard – provided you start out with sheets of pasta and not a tedious stack of tiny squares.

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Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter
(slightly adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy)

4 main course or 8 first-course servings

3 large carrots (12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
5 ounces (½ cup firmly packed) ricotta
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the carrots and shallot with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

2. In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot, and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

3. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with ¼ teaspoon salt and the parsley.

5. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to the skillet with the butter. Once all the ravioli are boiled, lightly toss them in the butter to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan.

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lemon cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting

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Two years ago, I made this cake for a Tiffany-themed baby shower (and I’m just now telling you about it), and it became infamous for the cake that made me cry. I wouldn’t have told anyone that myself, but Dave blurted it out when we delivered the cake. “Never again!”, he told our friends.

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I’m actually proud of the cake, but it’s true that it wasn’t a smooth process. When my friend showed me a picture of the cake and asked me to reproduce it for the baby shower she was hosting for her daughter, I ambitiously agreed. I had never worked with fondant before, but how hard could it be?

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Well, pretty hard, actually, at least when you’re both inexperienced and a perfectionist. I found a few opportunities to practice before the shower and learned some valuable lessons, but on the morning of the shower, the ruffles and lace were still uncharted territory. Looking back, I can’t remember what caused the tears, but it could have been any number of things – the lace sticking to the mold, running out of fondant, running behind schedule.

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Fortunately, whether the lace had obvious seams or the fondant cracked at the corners, I knew the cake itself would taste good. I’m much more confident in my baking skills than my decorating skills. I took one of my favorite white cakes and added lemon zest, so that, at least, was one part of this project that wasn’t complicated.

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Despite my struggles, I think the cake turned out great, and the host seemed pleased. It tasted at least as good as it looked. Still, it was two years before anyone asked me to make a tiered cake with fondant for them again. That is what I’ll be doing this weekend. Any bets on how many times I cry this time?

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic White Cake)

Makes a double-layer 8-inch or 9-inch cake

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites (¾ cup), at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 small lemon
1¾ cups granulated sugar (12¼ ounces)
2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool

1. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch-wide by 2-inch-high round cake pans and line with parchment paper. In a 4-cup liquid measure or medium bowl, whisk together milk, egg whites, and vanilla.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt at low speed. With the mixer running at low speed, add the butter one piece at a time; continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs with no visible butter chunks. Add all but ½ cup milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1½ minutes. With mixer running at low speed, add remaining ½ cup milk mixture; increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium speed and beat 20 seconds longer. Divide batter evenly between cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops.

3. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, about 20 minutes for 6-inch pans, 22 minutes for 8-inch pans, and 26 minutes for 10-inch pans. Loosen cakes from the sides of the pans with a small knife, cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto greased wire racks; peel off parchment. Invert the cakes again; cool completely on rack, about 1½ hours.

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Lemon Curd Filling (from Cook’s Illustrated)

⅓ cup lemon juice, from 2 lemons
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
½ cup sugar (3½ ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch table salt

1. Heat lemon juice in small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Whisk eggs and yolk in medium nonreactive bowl; gradually whisk in sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour hot lemon juice into eggs, then return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until mixture registers 170 degrees on instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to spoon, about 3 minutes.

2. Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in cold butter until incorporated; stir in cream, vanilla, and salt, then pour curd through fine-mesh strainer into small nonreactive bowl. Cover surface of curd directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until needed.

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Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 6 cups

You can use 12 ounces powdered sugar instead of 16 if you’re going to make pretty swirls with the icing instead of decorating. It’ll taste less sweet and more cream cheesy.

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter room temperature
4 cups (16 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat on low speed to combine.

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cappuccino fudge cheesecake

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Cheesecake, the more I think about it, is an almost perfect choice for bringing to dinner parties. It’s universally loved. It’s rarely complicated to make. It can be made several days in advance (or farther in advance and frozen). It transports well. The only tiny potential issue is that a full slice of cheesecake after a big meal can be tough to tackle.

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I get together with a group of friends every month; usually it’s some version of a potluck – perhaps the host will provide salad greens and dressings while everyone else contributes toppings (and wine). Or perhaps the host will provide corn tortillas and barbacoa and everyone else contributes toppings and sides. Last month, the host provided crostini, zuppa toscana, and salad. I was thrilled she didn’t have a dessert planned, providing me with an opening. Cappuccino fudge cheesecake seemed to fit the theme.

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Still, I was worried that 2 pounds of cream cheese, 1¼ pounds of chocolate, 1½ cups of heavy cream, and 1½ cups of sour cream would be overkill after bread and soup and lasagna, so I pared down the recipe to something more reasonable. Considering how much my friends raved, I’m not sure I needed to make a smaller version. Yes, there were leftovers, but there was no shortage of people to take them home. I might start bringing cheesecake to all the parties; I can’t imagine anyone will complain.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

16 servings

5 ounces chocolate cookies
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons dark rum
1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder
1½ tablespoons ground whole espresso coffee beans (medium-coarse grind)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons light molasses
3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
chocolate-covered espresso beans

1. For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the cookies with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the sugar and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan and up the sides an inch or so. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour over the chocolate and stir in the kahlua. Gently whisk until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth. Pour 1½ cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature to use later for decorations.

3. For the filling: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Beat the cream cheese on low speed until smooth; add the sugar and beat until blended. Mix in the flour. Combine the rum, espresso powder, ground coffee, vanilla, and molasses in a small bowl until the instant coffee dissolves; beat into the cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs one at a time, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

4. Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the cheesecake on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the top is brown, puffed and cracked at the edges, the center two inches moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, and the cheesecake reads 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack. Cool 15 minutes while preparing the topping (the top of the cheesecake will fall slightly). Maintain the oven temperature.

5. For the topping: Whisk the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl to blend. Spread the topping over the hot cheesecake, spreading to cover the cheesecake filling completely. Bake until the topping is set, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cheesecake to a rack. Refrigerate the hot cheesecake on a rack until cool, about 3 hours.

6. Run a small sharp knife between the crust and pan sides to loosen the cake; release the pan sides. Transfer the cheesecake to a platter. Spoon the reserved ganache into a pastry bag fitted with small star tip. Pipe lines one inch apart atop the cheesecake. Repeat in the opposite direction, making a lattice. Pipe ganache around the top edge of the cake. Garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, if desired. Chill until the lattice is firm, at least 6 hours. (Cheesecake can be made 4 days ahead. Wrap loosely in foil, forming a dome over the lattice; keep chilled.)

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poblanos stuffed with black beans and cheese

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Sometimes I try to have quick, healthy weeknight dinners that don’t include any grains. I’ve found that melty cheese is a satisfying way to replace the simple comfort of starches – although I’m not sure that replacing brown rice with cheese is much of a nutritional improvement.

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This has become a new favorite, in that it takes the main flavors of some of my fallback rice and bean dishes and stuffs them inside of a pepper. (I’m always reaching for the bag of frozen Hatch green chile we keep in the freezer so I can add it to the beans, and I have to remind myself that there’s plenty of spicy chiles in this recipe already.)

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With beans, Greek yogurt, and a simple guacamole, there’s plenty to keep me full here, even with a restrained amount of cheese. Even if it isn’t, in the end, any healthier than my normal bowl of rice and beans, it’s worth it for a meal as good as this one.

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Poblanos Stuffed with Black Beans and Cheese (inspired by Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook)

2 generous main course servings or 4 side dish servings

You can, of course, add more cheese, but I was trying to keep it light, and I found this amount to be satisfying.

4 medium poblano peppers
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans (about 2 cups)
½ cup salsa
3 ounces cheddar, monterey jack, cotija, or queso fresco, shredded or crumbled
1 avocado, peeled and seeded
juice from ½ lime
¼ cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut a slit in each pepper from the stem to the end. Place the peppers in a rimmed baking dish; bake for 15 minutes, until softened.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the salsa and beans. Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir half of the cheese into the beans.

3. Remove the peppers from the oven. When they’re cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to remove the seeds and veins. Pour out any liquid inside the peppers. Spoon one-quarter of the bean mixture into each pepper, then stuff the remaining cheese into the peppers over the beans. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cheese is spottily browned and the peppers are soft, 15-20 minutes.

4. In a small bowl, mash the avocado with a pinch of salt and half of the lime juice. In a separate bowl, mix the Greek yogurt with the remaining lime juice. Serve the roasted peppers with the avocado, yogurt, and a sprinkling of cilantro.

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salmon tacos with tomatillo-avocado slaw

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I’ve always made my fish tacos with white fish and been perfectly happy with that, but salmon actually makes a lot of sense. Just like barbacoa and chicken thighs, its richness makes a nice contrast to the crunchy slaw and tart dressing. Plus, I just really like salmon.

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In this case, it’s rubbed with chili spices, a little sugar, and just a bit of finely ground coffee for an extra bite. Rather than serving slices of avocado in the tacos, it’s pureed along with tomatillos and cilantro into the dressing for the slaw. As much as a pile of different toppings on tacos is fun, on a weeknight, I appreciate the simplification of mixing them all into one bowl with the cabbage.

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I don’t plan on pushing my white fish tacos aside – or my shredded beef tacos, or my Asian-inspired tacos, or even my lentil tacos – but we eat tacos often enough to enjoy plenty of variety. Combining one of my favorite types of fish with a creamy dressing made with avocados and stuffing it all into fresh corn tortillas? Plus it’s easy and healthy? Yes, this can be added to the list of tacos I make regularly.

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Dry-Rubbed Salmon Tacos with Tomatillo-Avocado Slaw (rewritten from Food and Wine via JBean Cuisine)

Serves 4

4 cups of pre-shredded coleslaw mix would work well here in place of the cabbage.

Tomatillo-avocado slaw:
2 tomatillos, husked and halved
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 ripe avocado, halved, peeled, and pitted
salt to taste
lime juice to taste
½ head cabbage, cored and finely sliced

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon finely ground coffee
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of ½ lime

For serving:
12 small flour or corn tortillas, heated and wrapped to keep warm
hot sauce, for serving

1. For the slaw: Transfer the tomatillos, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and avocado to a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth; season to taste with salt and lime juice. In a large bowl, stir the dressing into the cabbage. Set aside.

2. For the salmon: In a small bowl, combine the cumin, chili powder, brown sugar, coffee, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Dry the salmon fillets, then rub them with the spice mixture. If the salmon has skin, use all the rub on the skinless side; if the fillets are skinless, spread the spices on both sides.

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the salmon (skin-side up if it has skin), and cook without moving until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, flip the salmon, and cook until the salmon just flakes, another 4-6 minutes. Transfer the salmon to a plate and break into approximately 1-inch pieces. Season with lime juice.

4. To serve: Top each tortilla with a portion of the salmon and the slaw; sprinkle with hot sauce. Serve immediately.

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beef satay with spicy mango dip

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People keep giving me venison. I have friends who enjoy hunting but have families that don’t love the flavor of venison. I have another friend who doesn’t prefer the front shoulder, so I’ve turned several into barbacoa (and then gave him the recipe, and that was the end of my venison front shoulder donations). I don’t even know how I ended up with the prized backstrap, a cut similar to the tenderloin, but I’m not complaining.

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Rather than search for venison-specific recipes, I consider venison interchangeable with beef or sometimes pork. My brother sent me this recipe, and while I didn’t have the right cut of beef, I did have venison backstrap. It’s an interesting recipe, with a marinade that includes ground cashews. It ends up as more of a paste, which sticks to the meat as it cooks.

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It may be unusual, but it works. Dave and I made the full recipe, which supposedly feeds four, and we had no leftovers. Someone needs to give me more venison backstrap so I can make this again immediately – and this time I won’t share the recipe.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Beef Satay with Spicy Mango Dip
(rewritten from Linda Doeser’s Chinese: The Essence of Asian Cooking)

The recipe recommends serving with salad greens, but I mostly considered those garnish, while rice was important to soak up the sauce.

I made tamarind sauce the same way I do for pad Thai, by soaking tamarind paste in hot water, then straining out the solids and using the liquid in the recipe. You might also be able to find tamarind concentrate. If not, it won’t ruin the recipe to leave it out.

For the satay:
1 pound sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain and skewered
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup raw cashews
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
½-inch piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tamarind sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salad greens, to serve

For the spicy mango dip:
1 ripe mango, peeled and seeded
1 to 2 fresh red chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon salt

1. Heat a small not-notstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the coriander and cumin seeds; toast, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Let cool completely before grinding.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the ground spices, cashews, oil, shallots, ginger, garlic, tamarind sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and vinegar. Process until the cashews are finely chopped. Coat the meat with the cashew mixture; cover and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.

3. For the dip: Process the mango, chiles, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, cilantro, and salt in the food processor until smooth.

4. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Cook the skewers directly over the heat until browned and cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side. (Alternatively, cook for the same amount of time as close to the broiler element as possible.) Serve with the sauce and greens.
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roasted brussels sprouts and butternut squash with bacon-porter dressing

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Vegetables, cooked right, are delicious, a fact all-too-often forgotten as they’re relegated to an afterthought. It’s fortunate that roasting vegetables has become popular, because those can be an afterthought and still be tasty with just salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, but what could happen if we put the same effort into a vegetable dish as we did the main dish? What could happen is that Brussels sprouts will be the most popular dish at your party.

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A friend and I threw a beer tasting party last month, with amber ale cheddar soup, stout-braised beef topped with potatoes, scotch ale creme brulee, and these vegetables. This was the dish that got the most compliments and recipe requests. (Although I need to ask my friend for the creme brulee recipe, because that had a really interesting and delicious bitter edge to the sweet custard.)

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Brussels sprouts and squash are roasted, which is always a good start, but then the ante is upped with a dressing made from bacon renderings, minced shallot, malty beer, mustard, and apple cider vinegar. I wasn’t sure about the pairing of Brussels sprouts and squash, but the earthy and sweet combination ended up being great, and it was all tied together with the sweet-tart dressing. I admit, it isn’t quite as easy as just throwing vegetables in the oven with salt and olive oil to roast, but every once in a while, don’t vegetables deserve to be the star?

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash with Bacon-Porter Dressing (adapted from Beer Bitty via Craft Beer)

8 servings

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 ounces porter or brown ale
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven; heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts, squash, oil, cayenne, nutmeg, and thyme. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 20 minutes, stirring twice.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; when cool, coarsely chop or crumble. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the skillet. Add the shallot and garlic; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and maybe a little browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the beer and vinegar, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, mustard, sage, salt and pepper. Pour the beer mixture over the vegetables and stir to combine. Top with the bacon and nuts; serve.

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spanish chickpea and spinach stew

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I wasn’t big on life-changing, be-a-better-person resolutions this year, but I did get inspired for a lot of projects. There’s the cookbook goal; a list of house projects; an effort to post on my blog’s Facebook page more often; and a desire to take more pictures. To hold myself accountable (and give myself a satisfying box to check when I complete something), I’m tracking everything.

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My goal is to put effort into photography almost every day. It was easy the first few days, when we were traveling, but I was at a loss the first day back at work, when I don’t do much other than sit in my office all day, make dinner, and fold laundry. But of course I love food pictures, and dinner was right there, so I figured I might as well see if I could get a decent shot without much effort.

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In this case, not only were the shots decent (maybe from all that practice I’ve been getting taking random dinner pictures!), but the meal itself was fantastic. I’m a sucker for tomato-based soups, but with all the other good stuff in there, I didn’t even feel the need to dip a grilled cheese sandwich into the bowl. It’s lucky that I’d snapped a few quick pictures before we ate, because there were no leftovers – not that making it again soon would have been a hardship.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Spanish Chickpea and Spinach Stew
(rewritten but not significantly changed from Serious Eats)

I was worried that the spinach would turn to mush after 40 minutes of simmering, but even the baby spinach I used was okay. A heartier spinach would likely be even better.

For the tomatoes, I transferred half of the tomatoes from the can to a small bowl and used scissors to chop them. I used an immersion blender to puree the remaining tomatoes and ginger in the tomato can.

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 1-inch knob ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for serving)
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sweet or hot smoked paprika
12 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), undrained
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (optional)

1. Blend half the tomatoes, all the liquid from the can, and the ginger until smooth. Coarsely chop the remaining tomatoes.

2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onion, garlic, and paprika, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato-ginger puree; stir to combine. Gradually add the spinach, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, garbanzo beans (with their liquid), bay leaves, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the sherry vinegar. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately, drizzling with extra virgin olive oil.

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