Behind the 8 ball + 2018 challenge announced

As seems par for the course this year, I concluded 2017 finding myself running behind. Sigh. However, my New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to be more patient. Even with myself. Maybe especially with myself. So even though December is now a full week in the past, I’m going to finish my soup project. I have my notes, I have my plan; I just need a little more time to unpack and regroup.

Meanwhile, I can reveal to you my project for 2018. I had a lot of trouble coming up with this one – I auditioned a number of ideas and nothing felt quite right – and then N. hit on the perfect idea during our drive home from northern California this past weekend: a monthly Chopped challenge. If you aren’t familiar, Chopped is a competition cooking show on Food Network. The contestants have a set amount of time (mostly 30 minutes) during which they must cook and plate either an appetizer, an entrée, or a dessert featuring 3 or 4 “mystery basket ingredients” which can range from items as banal as halibut fillets or carrots to as mystifying or repulsive as gummy bears, kelp noodles, or the much maligned “chicken in a can.” The contestant who makes the least successful dish each round is “chopped,” leaving one winner at the end who takes home a cash prize.

I am mildly obsessed with this show. I yell at the contestants, I pause at the moment the basket ingredients are revealed to announce what dish I would make, and a year or so ago I created the hashtag #ChoppedConsultant, which I used to tweet dos and do nots while watching episodes (“don’t make bread pudding!” “don’t cook rice in the appetizer round!”). As I’ve mentioned previously, N. and I sometimes play the game of imagining what dishes we would make with a set of ingredients while we are waiting around somewhere or on a long drive. I have, on occasion, deemed a set of assigned ingredients “easy” and rattled off something immediately. Now, he’s suggesting I take my bragging to the stove and share the results. This sounded like fun.

Here’s how the challenge will work: once a month, N. will give me a “basket” of ingredients, and specify whether they are to be used in an appetizer, entrée, or dessert.  We aren’t going to require a time limit, at least not at first (and maybe not ever), in part to make it feel doable for me, and in part because, as N. commented, he doesn’t want to do the dishes it would take for me to complete a full dish in X amount of time. For extra fun and some audience participation, if you will, the day before I post the results, I’ll reveal the “mystery basket” here, including which part of the meal it applies to. Then, if you want, you can envision what you would make with these ingredients and post your idea in the comments!

I can’t promise all of these posts will present dishes you’ll want to try yourself. This is a bit of a departure from previous annual challenges I’ve assigned myself in that I’m not looking to learn a new skill or master a type of cookery. It’s really more… well, fun. And if the completed dish is a little odd, then so be it. We can still get some enjoyment out of imagining what we would make, and in laughing or smacking our lips over what results.

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Rain check…

No new post today, I’m afraid, amidst the final grading push and the beginning pressures of the Christmas holiday to come. I will say, though, that if you have a spare couple of hours and feel like a project, this recipe for Irish whiskey salted caramels produces a lush, smooth, definitively spiked treat. I don’t know the origin of the recipe, but I found them at the blog Cheese and Chocolate, which seems not to have been updated in a while, but which nonetheless offers some pretty tempting ideas.

Until next week!

Salad rules

As you can tell, I’ve been busy. My mom commented, on our weekly call Sunday morning, that she knew I’d been busy because one week I posted a recipe without photos, and the next week I added photos but no new recipe. Some of this is the time of the semester, some is what is happening in our country and world, and some is just that, even when I do have a free half hour or hour to devote to the kitchen, I don’t have a second (or third) to take and edit photos, or even to brainstorm a new dish that seems, as I like to put it, “blogworthy.” Combine that with the final dregs of summer weather Los Angeles is throwing at me, and I’m stuck on a loop of old, reliable meals, when all I really want to do, I realized yesterday at the point that our car thermometer read 92F in the Costco parking lot, is bake.

So this isn’t a recipe so much as a method. One of my go-tos for warm weather in the past few months has been a big chopped salad. It’s quick, it’s satisfying, it doesn’t heat up the kitchen, and it’s a great way to use up the last few whatevers you have knocking around in the fridge. Nothing fancy or difficult about it, and no set recipe – mine are always slightly different, but in making these semi-monthly since last spring, I’ve realized a few key components that result in a really good, satisfying salad, so that’s what I’m prepared to offer you today.

1.) you need a mixture of greens. Ours this weekend sported four kinds: romaine, arugula, spinach, and thinly shredded cabbage. That is perhaps a bit excessive, but the combination of lettuce varieties is really key, and the cabbage in particular is the extra I won’t go without. I like red cabbage best, but that’s more for the dramatic color than any significant flavor difference.

2.) fresh vegetables. Tomatoes and cucumbers are standards, but I love thinly sliced radishes in many things, and a big salad is no exception. Sugar snap or snow peas would be perfect too, and sometimes I like chives, or the greens of green onions, very thinly sliced. Canned vegetables like drained and rinsed artichoke hearts are also a good addition.

3.) blanched green beans. I know, another vegetable, but this is a separate requirement because it adds something different and, to me, utterly necessary. Just drop a handful in salted, boiling water for no more than 90 seconds, then rinsed or cooled in an ice bath until you are ready to add them to the salad. The combination of raw and cooked vegetables is a nice contrast.

4.) some kind of pickled vegetable. We’ve done fresh, we’ve done cooked; the briny pickle crunch keeps the salad exciting. I like a sprinkling of pickled onions, but if I have pickled carrots or radishes or green beans, that works too. Last night I had none of these, so I settled on thinly slicing a few cornichons, and though this wasn’t my favorite option, it did the job.

5.) sliced hard boiled egg. Enough said.

6.) meat and cheese, or, if you don’t do meat, some well seasoned tempeh crumbles would do nicely here. I like chiffonaded salami the best, but I’ve also been happy with strips of grilled chicken. I want the cheese to be cut in small cubes, and to be something medium-soft and creamy, like a gouda or fontina, to add a different texture.

7.) something crunchy that is not a vegetable. This ranges for us from toasted walnuts to croutons to well oiled and browned breadcrumbs, but the starch- or nut-based crunch, especially if the nuts or croutons are slightly warm, is so welcome.

8.) a tart but creamy dressing. My favorite is a squeeze of Dijon and honey – just a teaspoon or two – whisked up with some cider vinegar or lemon juice, and a few tablespoons of mayonnaise. Maybe some grinds of black pepper. Make the dressing just a hair more acidic than you think you’ll want, since look at all the components it will be flavoring! The tartness will be cut once it’s draped across cheese and greens and nuts and everything else.

There. Pile, stack, dress, toss, and you have the perfect salad. All you need now is a cold glass of rose, and the rest of the weekend back…

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Corn and Green Onion Waffles

I have, I promise you, a beautiful recipe for today that churns out beautiful waffles. But this weekend being what it was, I had to make a choice between editing photos and grading papers. I chose the responsible option. (At least, between those two choices. Other choices this weekend were less responsible. Related: holy god, do you guys remember how GOOD frappucinos with whipped cream are?!)

At any rate, I’ll get right to the meat – as it were – here, and promise weakly that images will follow. These are my standard beer batter waffles, except that half the flour is replaced by cornmeal, resulting in a crisp finish on the ridges and squares that even stands up to melted cheddar cheese (more on that in a tic). Before letting them sit to rise, you stir in a heap of corn kernels and green onions, and you end up with something that, depending on your currently location’s definition of “autumn,” could be a lovely alternative to cornbread to balance against your steaming bowl of chili, or a substantial side for a crisp salad like this one.

Because waffles cook one at a time, if you want to eat with your dining partners, instead of taking turns, it’s handy to have a system for keeping them warm. My favorite is to preheat the oven to 250F with a wire rack resting over a cookie sheet inside. As each waffle is done, I sprinkle on a few tablespoons of grated cheddar cheese and stow the laden circle in the oven. While the remaining waffles bake, the cheese melts into a perfect gooey layer, and the waffle, with its cornmeal armor, stays crisp and light underneath.

Corn and green onion waffles
Makes about 8 5-6-inch waffles
Approximately 2½ hours, including rising time
1½ cups (12 ounces) beer, the darker the better
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or defrosted
6 large green onions, pale and dark green parts only, thinly sliced
Optional: grated cheddar cheese

 

  • In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, or a small microwave safe bowl, heat the beer until just warm to the touch, about 40 seconds. Add yeast and the maple syrup and let them mingle for 5-10 minutes. The yeast will foam up considerably, thanks to the extra sugars and yeast already in the beer.
  • While the yeast proofs, whisk together the cooled melted butter, the salt, and the eggs in a large bowl. Be sure there’s room for the batter to expand.
  • Add the beer and yeast mixture and whisk to combine, then add the flour and cornmeal a little at a time, whisking to combine thoroughly. Add the corn kernels and green onions and whisk again until only vegetable lumps – not flour lumps – remain.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it on the counter for 1-2 hours.  The mixture will slowly develop lethargic bubbles and begin to smell quite bready.
  • Once it has had a chance to rise for an hour or two, either stow in the refrigerator overnight, or preheat your waffle iron!
  • Drop the batter in generous batches (mine can take about ⅔ cup at a time) onto a preheated, greased waffle iron. Close the lid and cook for the recommended amount of time, or until the waffle is crisp on the outside and deeply golden. Mine take about 6 minutes.
  • As you finish each waffle, you can either drop it directly onto some lucky person’s plate, or stow it on a wire rack in a preheated 250F oven. If desired, sprinkle each waffle with 1-2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese before placing them in the oven, so the cheese can melt before serving.

 

 

Rain check

Not a single solitary chance of a recipe post, I’m afraid. You know how moving is: everything takes longer and costs more than you were expecting, and of course it’s also the very last week of my semester, with all the bitter joy that entails.

What I am offering is a little sneak peak into – if you’ll pardon my Hamilton obsession leaking its way into my cooking space – the room where it happens. Snagged straight from my phone (no chance of a proper shot yet), this is the place! Look at that counter space! Look at that backsplash! Look at the light pouring in from that big window! (Look at that jalapeño cheddar cornbread just off-screen!) New organization scheme and cabinets-that-open-the-direction-I-wasn’t-expecting and glare management and wonky stove aside, I’m besotted, and I can’t wait to find out what emerges.

Once I’m a little more unpacked.

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Rain Check

Sorry to leave you hanging here yet again, friends, but due to some big things going on that I’ll tell you about soon, plus that whole Week-11-of-the-semester thing, I need to take a rain check. Hopefully this will just be for a week while I collect myself and get into the kitchen for a while, but I don’t want to be too definite, since I’m sure you remember what Mary Poppins says about piecrust promises…

Back soon, I hope. Be well.