To Wok, or not

It’s post-Easter, and once again I’ve got more eggs than space. Here’s a tasty way to convert 2-3 eggs into a satisfying meal along with any lingering vegetables from the fridge.  

Granted, fried rice can be a bit of a yawn, but this one will catch your attention. Bill from Woks of Rice adds a clever seasoning sauce to his rice either ahead or during the stir fry process.  More than the usual few shakes of soy sauce, his blend includes a dash of turmeric which adds color, smooths the edges, and fills in some the missing blanks.  

I have taken liberties with Bill’s recipe and streamlined it further for my own convenience and entertainment.  I’ve discovered that the Instant Pot works nicely as a makeshift wok!  By using the Sauté More setting, it rises to the occasion and supplies plenty of heat for the stir fry task. 

Fried Rice

So, grab your wok, a pan, or pot of choice. It’s critical that all prep work is done ahead since the stir fry goes very fast. The ingredient list may look long due to the many vegetable inclusions, but pick and choose as you wish. Here are 3 salient points:

  1. Attend to all advance work and gather all tools. When ready, there are few cooking steps. 
  2. Read though the recipe a couple of times so that the cooking process flows smoothly.
  3. Directions are provided for either a wok (or wide skillet) or Instant Pot.  When it’s time to remove the ‘pan from the heat’ simply grab a glove or mitt and lift pan or pot liner onto a hot plate or board standing by. If necessary, carefully wipe it out before proceeding.

Although this is a vegetable-based dish, it’s delicious with ham, shrimp or other protein added at the vegetable stage.   

Fried Rice, Wok or not 

Inspired by Vegetable Fried Rice, Woks of Life   

Ingredients
1 cup raw rice (3 cups approx., cooked white rice)
Rice Seasoning Sauce:
½ tsp sesame oil
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
Vegetables:
¼ cup carrots, dice
½ onion, dice
¼ cup shiitake or other fresh mushrooms, dice
¼ cup green pepper (your choice) dice
¾ cup snow peas, remove strings and halve
1 green onion, chop
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided, more if needed2 cup mung beans sprouts
1 clove garlic, mince
⅛ tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp white wine or water
2 eggs
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp white wine or water

Instructions

  1. In Advance 
    • Prepare Rice  Prepare the rice according to package directions. In Instant Pot, place 1 cup basmati rice, 1½ cups water, and ½ tsp salt in pot. Seal, bring to Pressure, cook 5-6 minutes; allow 10 minutes cool down time before releasing pressure. Cool to room temperature and break up any clumps.
    •  Seasoning Sauce and Vegetables  In a small bowl, combine sauce ingredients and set aside. Trim vegetables, cut into similar size; set aside in neat piles.
    • Eggs  Combine the eggs with salt, white pepper and water. 
  2. Heat wok to high (IP Sauté Normal) coat with 1 Tbsp oil. Pour in the eggs; scramble with spatula and when half cooked remove pan (IP liner) from heat. Use spatula to break eggs into smaller pieces and finish cooking with residual pan heat. Turn out onto holding plate.
  3. Set wok heat to medium (IP to Sauté Normal).  Add 1 Tbsp oil, onion, garlic, and carrot, stir fry for 1 minute with spatula.  Add mushrooms and pepper, stir fry 30-60 seconds. 
  4. Increase heat to high (IP to Sauté More).  Add rice and stir fry, firmly scraping bottom to prevent sticking.  After 1 minute pour the reserved seasoning sauce over the rice and stir to coat rice evenly.  Season with more white pepper and cook 2 minutes until steam rises from rice. Adjust seasoning.
  5. Add the snow peas, stir 15-30 seconds.  Return eggs to pan and mix to incorporate.  Add water or wine around perimeter of pan and stir it in.  Add the beans sprouts and scallions, cooking until sprouts begin to wilt.  Serves 4.

Scottish Salmon anyone?

A package of Scottish Smoked Salmon caught my eye at the grocery store recently. It was a thick slice from a fillet weighing between 5-6 ounces in size, similar in shape to a cut of hot smoked Pacific Northwest salmon. But it was softer when pressed—on the order of a chunk of cold smoked Nova.  I was intrigued…

When I opened it later, I discovered the salmon’s skin was attached and it was wonderfully moist and flaked easily.  It’s richly smoked flavor was more intense than the usual Nova salmon—somewhere between hot smoked and Nova. Oh yum. This delicacy would require a light touch to retain its essence and beauty. 

After considering my options, I decided to feature the salmon in a light, creamy Pasta Carbonara. 

I’d go with a fettucine rounded it out with mild artichoke quarters, a bit of roasted red pepper and peas for color—and fold in the salmon at the last minute. If the lovely Scottish smoked salmon is not available, go with your next best choice, either Nova or hot smoked.  

Since there isn’t much prep for this dish, it’s best to have everything ready as it all happens in the blink of an eye.  Frozen peas are set out on the counter at the onset. Canned quartered artichokes are used rather than fresh or frozen and tossed lightly with mild vinaigrette.  I used a variety of fettucine that only takes 5 minutes and started it cooking before beginning the carbonara. 

First, the vegetables are heated in a sauté pan and the hot drained pasta is added and combined. When well heated, the pan is removed from the heat. The egg mixture is poured over the hot pasta forming its own creamy sauce with more Parmesan added in. Any residual heat should be enough for the eggs to bind and cling to the pasta. If in doubt briefly return to heat. Too much heat can run the risk of a scrambled mess.

 

Top with the glorious smoked salmon and a few chives or green onions, give a light toss and dinner is served! 

Smoked Salmon Carbonara

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, small slivers
  • ⅓ cup roasted red peppers, strips
  • 1 cup quartered artichokes, rinse, drain, cut if large. If time permits, marinate  briefly in 1-2 Tbsp vinaigrette
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ tsp each salt & red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 12 oz. fettuccine, cooked al dente, 1 cup salted pasta water, reserved
  • 5 oz. Scottish smoked salmon, broken up – or equivalent Nova or hot smoked salmon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper as needed
  • 2 Tbsp chives or green onion slivers

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and reserve 1 cup pot liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, sauté garlic briefly in olive oil. Add roasted red peppers and drained artichokes, gently toss to incorporate flavors. Add the defrosting peas, cook 1-2 minutes to heat well.  
  3. Beat eggs with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk ½ cup of the hot pasta liquid into the eggs to temper them and stir in ¼ cup of grated cheese. 
  4. Reduce heat to medium, toss the pasta and vegetables together in the hot skillet. Drizzle with olive oil to avoid sticking to pan and remove from heat.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta/vegetables to evenly coat; sprinkle with more cheese. Add more hot pasta water if needed to form a creamy sauce; adjust seasoning.
  6. Top with the smoked salmon pieces and gently combine; overmixing can reduce freshness and color. Sprinkle with chives or green onion.  Yield:  4 generous servings

Ice Storm Satisfaction

This past week the entire country was hit by severe winter storms. We haven’t been spared here in Oregon either. For over a day now, ice storms  have caused sporadic power outages throughout the region.

Icy Rose Bush

Crashing sounds continue to echo outside, as huge icicles precipitously break and fall thunderously to the ground from their weighty perches. It’s darn cold out there.

An early start this morning called for a late breakfast of warm, luxurious, comfort food. High on my mind, a fabulous block of Cotswold Double Gloucester cheese on standby in the fridge.

Cotswold, Courtesy Amazon.com

Cotswold is a variation of Double Gloucester, a whole cow’s milk cheese made in Gloucestershire County, England where it is revered as a pub cheese.  In my book, it’s not nearly so self-limiting.

This is a unique cheddar-style cheese, pale orange in color and deftly speckled with chives and onions.  Its full herbaceous flavor equally shines on a cheeseboard or teamed with just about anything that agrees with alliums.

Here’s a simple solution that soothed my hungry heart.

Cotwold Pub Sandwich

Call this a starting place: a hot sandwich or cheese-stuffed French toast topped with an egg.  A cheese sandwich of this stature is so startlingly robust it needs little more—perhaps a dab of mayonnaise.

Or, Cheese-Stuffed French Toast

Envelope it all in an eggy batter and simply toast on both sides.  It is exquisite graced with a gooey fried egg.

Cotswold Pub Sandwich (Cheese-Stuffed French Toast)

Ingredients
2 slices sourdough bread
2-3 slices Cotswold Double Gloucester with Onions & Chives cheese
1 tsp mayonnaise or mustard combo
2 eggs, divided
1 Tbsp milk
salt, pepper
1 Tbsp butter, divided

Instructions

  1. Spread the inside slices of bread with mayonnaise. Layer with thick slices of Cotswold cheese.
  2.  In shallow bowl, beat 1 egg with 1 Tbsp milk, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the sandwich in the egg batter and soak for 30 seconds to absorb some of the batter. Turn and repeat.
  4. In hot skillet over medium heat, coat the surface with part of the melted butter.  When hot and bubbly add the sandwich and cook until toasted and cheese softens, approximately 3 minutes per side adding butter as needed. 
  5. Remove sandwich to plate.  If desired, add an egg to buttered skillet; once the white begins to set turn or, add 1 Tbsp water to pan to create steam, cover with lid and cook to set the yolk, another minute or so.
  6. Top the sandwich with a fried egg. Enjoy hot.   Serves 1. 

In Defense of Halloumi

Halloumi has been on my radar for a while now. In truth, it’s not a cheese I was real familiar with because its biggest sales pitch is that it doesn’t melt much. That seemed an oxymoron. Why bother? I’m usually looking for those that are either very hard, fresh, or get all gooey.

But from a cheesemaking point of view, it becomes far more interesting. Halloumi is a fairly basic cheese to make:  set the curds, form into a manageable flat shape, and briefly press to tighten the structure. Then, it goes through a heat process that raises the melting point. It’s salted and often held in a brine solution.

Fresh Halloumi

You are rewarded with a chewy cheese with a fresh mild flavor, a charming squeakiness, and a salty component. Now that is quite a package and enough to challenge feta! Halloumi retains its best qualities when eaten hot or warm. With a little imagination it can easily become the major protein point in a meal.

More good news. Halloumi heats fast while turning golden brown in short order. My latest experiment included cubes as part of a skewered mixture of fast cooking vegetables.

Halloumi Skewers

For even cooking it’s best to select smaller sized mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and cut sweet onion, pepper, and summer squash into shapes similar in size to the halloumi.  Marinate all in an herbal vinaigrette for 20-30 minutes.

Once skewered and set in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat  watch carefully and turn, as they brown in 2-3 minutes per side.  I served mine on a bed of warm ley puy lentils along with a few greens, olives, etc.—with warm naan bread and more olive oil for drizzling. Splendid.

Halloumi and Lentils

More info on le puy lentils and a light vinaigrette can be found at Soup and Salad. For those interested, my simplified Halloumi recipe follows, inspired by Gavin Webber’s helpful Halloumi video on YouTube. 

Halloumi

Resized and inspired by Gavin Webber video

Ingredients
10 cups whole milk, homogenized, not ultra-pasteurized
¼ tsp liquid rennet, dilute in ¼ cup water
¼ cup coarse sea salt, approx.

Directions

  1. Heat milk to 86-90° F. Add rennet, stir gently up and down for 1 minute. Cover and rest 30-45 mins to set. Check for a clean break.
  2. To cut curds, cut into ½” cubes with long knife. Rest 5-10 mins to heal the curds.
  3. Slowly heat whey to 104°F, allow about 30 mins. Gently stir curds to keep from matting. Maintain heat for 20 mins; stir occasionally as curds will shrink. Remove pot from heat, cover and rest 10 mins to allow curds to sink.
  4. Drain whey into cheesecloth lined colander, with pot or bowl under to save whey. Wrap with cheesecloth and shape into a ball. Squeeze liquid from curd; turn out with cloth onto large board.
  5. To shape, press and weight, flatten the curd into approx. 1” thick oval, wrap with cloth to firmly hold shape and cover with 2nd board. Weight on top with filled 1 gallon jug for 10 minutes. Turn the flatten curd over, cover with board and press for 20 mins more.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare a draining rack and drainable mat as a holding area.
  7. Cut flattened curd mass into 4 or more wedges.
  8. Heat whey in pot to 180-200° F, skim any detritus (save 2-4 cups for brine). Remove from heat, place curd wedges in near boiling whey and cover until they begin to float, 20-45 mins. If some do not float reheat the whey. Place the cooked wedges on mat to drain a few minutes.
  9. Sprinkle each halloumi wedge all over with ½ tsp fine sea salt. Place on mat to drain 2-4 hours.
  10. For brine, dissolve 2 Tbsp coarse sea salt in 4 cups whey (can be cut with half distilled water).
  11. Store halloumi in closed container, zip lock bag, or covered in brine for up to 60 days. Flavors improve with age.
  12. To fry halloumi, heat skillet over medium heat with a light layer of olive oil. Cook halloumi pieces until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.

No Sweat Dinner = Sheet Pan + Pasta

There are times when we just want a nice hot dinner—but don’t want to be bothered with a lot of hands on busyness. That’s when a sheet pan, pasta, and a little advance planning can make it all happen.

Got a pound or so of boneless-skinless chicken thighs?  Spoil yourself with juicy slices of herb roasted chicken showcased in an enticing spread of roasted aromatic vegetables and penne pasta finished in a light herbal sauce.

Sheet pan magic

A few things to do a day or more ahead:  Mix up a thick herbal marinade, combine it with chicken thighs and chill at least 2 hours. Set aside approximately 3 cups of aromatic vegetables—ones not extremely dense for a faster bake—like fennel, scallions, and red peppers.  Up to 2 days in advance cook up a small batch of a resilient pasta such as penne, which can hold up to advance cooking.  Drain, rinse, and drizzle with olive oil to keep from sticking; cool and store airtight in fridge.

When you’ve got dinner on your  mind—about an hour before eating—bring out the chicken, vegetables, and pasta to approach room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking pan with foil or a bit of olive oil.

Distribute the thighs on the pan, arrange prepped vegetables among them; drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Sheet Pan Roast

Pop the pan into the oven and step away for 35-40 minutes until done.  If you think about it, give the chicken thighs a turn and flip the vegetables to cook evenly. Remove pan and cover to keep warm.

To bring it all together, begin with a simple garlic-herb oil in a wide pan or skillet.  To that, heat a handful of cherry tomatoes and the roasted vegetables. Fold in the pre-cooked pasta, and for additional moisture include any sheet pan liquid or a bit of hot water plus a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Toss lightly until pasta is coated, shiny, and hot. Dust with Parmesan.

Rather than lose the chicken in an indistinguishable mass of pasta and vegetables, retain their identity and flavor.  Slice the warm chicken and feature pieces tucked into the pasta mélange. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.  Pass more cheese if desired.

Roast Chicken Thighs with Vegetables & Penne

Ingredients
1½ lb chicken thighs, boneless, skinless (about 6), wash, pat dry
Herb Marinade
2 tsp mixed dried herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram
½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
⅓ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp parsley, chop
2 Tbsp fresh fennel fronds, chop

1 small bulb fennel, trim, slice into ½ inch thick wedges
1 red pepper, seed, cut in ½ inch thick wedges
6-8 green onions, trim, cut in 3” lengths
salt, pepper, 1 tsp paprika
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided

8 oz penne, cooked al dente
3 cloves garlic, smash and cut into slivers
½ tsp each dried rosemary and sage
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half if large
¼ cup Parmesan or Asiago, grated
2 Tbsp fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram, parsley, etc.

Directions

  1. Combine the marinade. Place thighs in zip lock bag, pour the marinade over, massage into the thighs and let marinade at least 2 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°, place room temp thighs on lined baking pan. Distribute the vegetables among them and drizzle lightly with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and dust all with paprika.
  3. Roast for 35-40 minutes turning once or twice, until thighs and vegetables evenly color, and meat is firm when pressed, @ 165°F. Cover lightly with foil.
  4. If not prepped ahead, cook the penne in salted water until al dente @ 10 minutes. Drain, save 1 cup water.
  5. In skillet or wide pot over medium low, heat 1 Tbsp oil, add the garlic cook 1-2 minute until aromatic, add the dried herbs and continue to cook 2 minutes longer to richly season the oil, but not brown the garlic.
  6. Increase heat to medium, add tomatoes and the roasted vegetables, cook to incorporate and heat all, 1-2 minutes. Add the penne plus a bit of the pasta water to moisten pasta and keep it from sticking to pot; cook 1-2 minutes.
  7. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil, adjust seasoning, and sprinkle with cheese. Serve with slices of warm thighs tucked into the pasta. Sprinkle with fresh herbs. Serves 4. Pass more cheese if desired.

Behold, leftovers!

This year, Christmas dinner had its challenges.  With lockdown in place for many of us, we faced a different holiday meal, one without the shared comfort and joy of extended family and friends.

Not terribly hungry, I ended up roasting a supply of vegetables: brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes. When ready I topped it with sliced ham, a mustard glaze and baked until bubbly. It got the job done—without much flash or flare.  My heart really wasn’t in it.

Pending leftovers

Holidays meals often translate to future soups, stews and snacks.  The uninspired leftovers lingered in the fridge for a couple of days before I considered what to do with them.  I mulled over the possibilities: soup and such just didn’t seem to fit here. Then I recalled a delicious dish that would create a cohesive meal out of all this with little effort on my part.

In a 2014 blog I described the Chicken Puff Pie as a throwback to the “pot pie—without the pie crust”.  At the time I was deeply into crepes, clafoutis, and custard-based dishes and this evolved from that process. The surprising dish yielded a nutritious, creamy, and satisfying meal without all the work.

I’ve since learned that just about any leftover vegetables and complementary protein will work. Refresh them in a quick sauté with onion and herbs. A thin crepe-like batter is poured overall,  suspending the collection into something similar to a savory clafoutis.

Puff Pie glimpse

Bake the dish for 30 minutes in a hot oven until light and puffed.  Cool briefly and slice into neat wedges.

True comfort food that does not taste like leftovers and reheats beautifully…

Vegetables and Ham Puff Pie  

Most complementary precooked vegetables and protein can be substituted here. 

Ingredients
1 Tbsp butter, plus butter for baking dish
½ medium onion, peeled, small chop
1 clove garlic, divided, crushed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, diced
1 tsp dried herbs:  thyme, rosemary, sage
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 cup precooked brussels sprouts, cut in half
1 cup precooked carrots, small chunks
1 cup precooked potatoes, small chunks
1 cup or more ham cut into small chunks
Batter
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
⅔ cup warm milk
1 clove garlic, crushed
few grinds fresh pepper
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
For top:  2 Tbsp Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a quiche dish, pie plate or similar baking dish.
  2. In large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, cook to soften. Add the garlic, jalapeno if desired, herbs, salt and pepper, cook 3-4 minutes.
  3. Stir in precooked vegetables. Add the ham and cook 3-4 minutes to heat and blend flavors.
  4. Make the batter: In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt and make a well in the center.  Add the beaten eggs and begin incorporate the flour; whisk in the milk, the garlic, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the Parmesan cheese to form a thin, nearly smooth batter.
  5. Spread enough batter into the baking dish to coat the bottom, about ½ cup. Place in the hot oven and bake until the bottom is set, 4 minutes.
  6. Evenly distribute the ham and vegetables mixture over the layer of batter in the baking dish. Stir down the remaining batter and pour it evenly over the filling. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese over the top and return the dish to oven.
  7. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer. It is done when puffed and browned around edges and the center is firm when pressed.  Yield:  4 or more servings

To Your Health

Delicious delicata squash is available in markets right now, and if you haven’t given it a try, you are in for a delightful discovery.

Delicatas are one of Squash World’s most misunderstood varieties. Their unique shoulder season adds to the confusion, since they grow during the summer and are harvested in the fall. Thus, they are actually more related to zucchini and other summer squash.

You’ve probably seen these elongated, pale-yellow, green-ridged beauties mixed in with the winter squash.  Just eying them in a display next to thick-shelled squash, it’s easy to assume that they, too, have a hard exterior. Not so, their skin cuts easily and is quite edible.

Delicata specimen

Although the squash is a bit smaller than many of its shelf mates, when sliced open you’ll find a firm golden interior with a string of large seeds (also edible). One look inside tells you this variety is richly loaded with minerals and fiber.

This makes the delicata an ideal candidate for a fast oven roast.  In about 30 minutes the half-moons soften and caramelize beautifully, and the tender ribbons of skin help retain their charming shape.  While at it, you could include other mildly dense vegetables such as onions or sliced peppers.

Delicata roasted half-moons

For a seasonal pasta combination, I went with ruffled farfalle and lightly coated everything with a full flavored near-raw Kale Pesto, a hearty fall pesto variation loaded with nutrients and possibilities.

Delicata, kale pesto, pasta

If you are up for other pasta options, try an interesting substitute such as kelp or soba noodles.

Delicata Squash, Kale Pesto & Pasta

Ingredients
1 small Delicata squash, wash, halve lengthwise and seed; cut into ¼” – ½” slices
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 sliced onion and/or 1 cup sliced multicolored peppers (optional)
Kale Pesto
1 small bunch cleaned & stemmed lacinato kale leaves, 3 cups packed pieces
3 cloves garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp salt
¼ cup pine nuts, toast
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese (more for topping)
1 Tbsp lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, approx..
12 oz. pasta
Finish: grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. To roast the delicata squash, on a baking sheet drizzle the squash and any additional vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast @ 425°F for 20-30 minutes, until squash softens and begins to caramelize and brown. Remove and cool. Can be done ahead.
  2. For pesto, to blanch kale in microwave place 3 cups rinsed, chopped kale in microwaveable container. Cover and cook 1-2 minutes until wilted, still dark green, and reduced to 1 cup or less.
    Place the cooled leaves and cooking liquid in a blender with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and lemon juice. Whirl briefly. Add pine nuts, grated cheese; slowly drizzle in olive oil pulsing to form a thick, textured paste; adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead. This will likely make more than needed.
  3. To assemble, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain; save 1 cup of water.
    Place pasta In large bowl, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of pesto,  a little pasta water, if dry. Add the vegetables to the pasta and toss with more pesto to lightly coat. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 3-4

Going with the flow

I’m still using Imperfect Foods for bi-monthly deliveries. They are on time with reliably packed seasonal produce and products—a pleasure during this Covid debacle when shopping is frequently less than enjoyable.

Key cooking options recently got down to a small bunch of leeks and one sweet potato. It looked like it was time for a nutritious soup. I’d put my Zen on and shoot for uncomplicated {Sweet} Potato Leek Soup—and see what happened.

Sweet Potato and Leeks

Oops, as I started peeling the sweet potato I discovered it was white inside. What? Apparently this sweet potato variation can be drier and less sweet than its redder cousins. Okay, fine.

With so few ingredients it’s hard to screw up this soup. I did add a touch of flour to stabilize the soup, just in case it turned grainy. Most important, the leeks need to cook 30 minutes to soften and release their full sweet-herbal flavors. For stock base, I opt for chicken broth, but I suspect a good vegetable broth would be just as good.

The cubed sweet potato is hard but cooks fairly quickly. The only other seasonings used were herbs with the leeks, nutmeg with the sweet potato, salt and white pepper. When ready, an immersion blender quickly pureed it all.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was prepared to thin it with milk or stock, I kept it slightly thick. Ah, yes. The soup was creamy and delicious with soothing herbal notes and a touch of sweetness (likely more so with a red sweet potato). It needed no tweaking.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

The garnishes also took on a life of their own. I especially liked it swirled with salted Greek yogurt and threads of green onion.

On another occasion, for textural interest, I dusted the top with dukkah (below), a favorite of Yotam Ottolenghi.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup with Dukkah

Dukkah is a nutty Egyptian mix laced with coriander, cumin and sesame seeds that I learned about on his MasterClass. Oh, yum.

Dukkah mix

The point is, any type of potato will work here, just go with the flow… it’s even good straight up in a cup—fast, filling, and refreshing.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
3 small leeks, mostly white parts, clean well, trim and slice
½ tsp thyme and/or savory
1 bay leaf
salt and white pepper
1 Tbsp flour
2-3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 medium sweet potato (any kind!), peel and small chop
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup evaporated or whole milk approx., optional
Finish: plain yogurt light salted, green onion slivers

For Dukkah mix: 1 tsp coconut oil, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp white and or black sesame seeds, ⅔ cup total any combo slivered almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and or pistachios. Each ½ tsp paprika, dried oregano or sage, and sumac if available. Optional ½ tsp salt and/or sugar. (see below)

Directions

  1. In soup pot heat the oil over medium add the leeks and toss; then the spices. Cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, blend in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup stock, simmer to thicken. Add the potato cubes and nutmeg; stir in more stock to cover. Simmer the vegetables until soft, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Carefully puree with an immersion blender until smooth; adjust seasoning. Set aside until ready to serve soup.
  4. To finish, heat the soup mixture. If desired, stir in milk to thin; avoid boiling. Finish with salted yogurt, green onion or dukkah. Serves 4
Dukkah

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

  1. In a small skillet, heat coconut oil over medium/high heat, add the coriander and cumin seeds and cook until aromatic, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add sesame seeds and toss until toasted scents begin to develop. Add nuts of choice. As mix begins to toast, add paprika, oregano or sage, sumac if available. Adjust with a pinch of salt and/or sugar as needed to balance. Toss until well toasted but not burnt. Let cool.
  3. Process briefly in food processor into a coarse blend. Cool and store well covered, the blend holds well.

Smoking Light

I finally buckled and bought a small grill/smoker.  This little guy is the compromise I’d been dreaming about: a compact heavy duty grill geared for smoking.  Turns out, this odd-duck is the cast iron smoker box add-on to Char-Griller’s large premium model.  Their baby version is also designed as a stand alone tabletop grill.

Char-Griller Table Top Grill

I’ve been running it through its paces and yes, it holds optimum temperatures of 250-275°F.  Using the the offset smoking method, coals are fired up in a lower ash box opposite the main grill side. Two vents channel smoke up and around the food, constantly wrapping it in warm smoke.

I’m not interested in smoking food for hours on end, but I do want it thoroughly smoked and safely cooked within a reasonable amount of time. There’s a delicate balance between duration of time and establishing the proper interior heat for adequate smoking.  When planning for thorough cooking of most foods, the 250-275°F range seems to be it.

Acceptable internal meat temperatures can actually differ from traditional gauges and guidelines, such as cooking poultry until 165°F.  It’s been proven that holding meat at a prolonged lower cooking temp is perfectly safe, if it is held for a prescribed period of time.  For example with chicken, the USDA says that bacteria like salmonella is eliminated and chicken is safe once it fully reaches 145°F and is cooked at that temperature at least 13 minutes longer.

That’s more information than you may want. Especially if you have an electric or propane grill that monitors all of that for you.  But this approach works for the minimalist in me.

In my opinion chicken thighs are an ideal solution for a ‘smoking light’ session. With the bone-in and skin on they need little more to produce perfect packages of moist, blissful meat graced with just enough skin for those who may deem it important.

Thighs ‘Smoked Light’

My approach for smoked chicken thighs includes brining. A flavored salt solution acts to purify, moisturize and enhance the thighs. It gets the job done in four hours, but may be held longer with a saltier outcome.  If concerned, just dilute with more water.

After the brining, thighs air dry for 4 hours to aid in smoke adherence and absorption. To counteract flabby or rubbery skin, try a quick sear in a hot pan prior to smoking. Another solution is to sear them on the grill, but fat dripping onto coals also means flare ups and heat acceleration.

No time to brine? Try a light rub on the thighs prior to placing them on the grill—with a water pan below.  A simple rub with paprika and slight pop of sumac is included; it will punch up the flavor yet allow the smoke essence to flourish.

For smoke flavoring, I soaked a combination of mesquite and apple chips for 30 minutes and drained them well before placing them in a smoker box on top of white charcoal.  The coals  were replenished once to maintain the grill’s interior temperature.

After 1½ hours cooking time, thigh internal temperatures ranged from 145 to 155°F.  Within 15 minutes, temperatures maintained and stabilized from 148-155°F throughout.  The thighs had a beautiful burnished color and were firm when pressed.

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Done to perfection!

Smoked Chicken Thighs

Ingredients
4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
Brine
2 cups water divided
2 cloves garlic, smash and sliver
1 Tbsp each sea salt and granulated sugar
½ tsp peppercorns
bay leaf
Optional Rub
1 tsp each salt, white pepper,  sweet or smoked paprika, ⅛ tsp sumac

Directions

  1. Brine: combine 1 cup water and ingredients, bring to boil to dissolve salt and sugar. Add 1 cup cold water to the brine and set aside to cool.
    Wash the thighs and trim excess skin and fat. Place in zip lock bag covered with brine. Marinate 4 hours; it becomes saltier the longer it brines.
    Remove the thighs from brine, pat excess liquid.  Air dry on a rack for 4 or more hours in fridge. Bring thighs to room temperature before smoking.
  2. Soak chips: soak wood chips in water for 20-30 minutes, drain well and place in smoker box if using.
  3. Prepare the smoker:  ignite coals. Add a water pan below the offset smoker grill side and spray the grill. When coals begin to turn white, top with chips/smoker box.
  4. Optional thighs sear:  heat skillet to medium high and coat it with oil. Sear skin sides only.
  5. Optional rub:  If using rub, apply just before placing on grill.
  6. Smoke the thighs: when interior smoker temperature reaches 250°F place the thighs on the grill. Close the lid and set vents partially open for draft.  Smoke the thighs for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until 165°F internal temp, or a sustained overall internal temp of 150°F for 5 minutes.

Note:  to maintain a steady heat level check coals 30 minutes into smoke, if dwindling add a few more hot coals to bed.     

Breakfast All Day

Frittatas are highly versatile and notoriously good hot, warm, or room temperature. They are equally good as a finger food snack cut into small bites.

Depending on the combination, a frittata is satisfying any time of the day. It makes an easy receptacle for fresh or cooked vegetables like potatoes, chorizo and other meats, and leftovers such as pasta—or just about anything that can be suspended in eggs—that familiar binder that keeps it all together.

A frittata is so adaptable it’s hard to screw it up.  As a habit, I tend to begin with vegetables, sliced or in a standard chop, and sauté them over medium heat for even cooking. Any other inclusions are added, followed by the eggs, and it’s finished on the stove with a quick flip, or baked in the oven until set.

Recently, I came across a photo of a frittata that featured bigger pieces of cut-up vegetables—not a hugely innovative idea, but it caused me to rethink frittatas in general.

Frittata with Mixed Vegetables & Cheese

For a slightly different approach, why not simply bump up the heat a little?  Start by searing vegetables cut to any size with a fast steam to further soften?  Add other ingredients including the eggs and cook until set, and finish under the broiler.

Frittata fast track

No big deal, but it does provide a faster, more consistent outcome.  Those lovely vegetables are no longer lost and buried filler.

just a bite

The eggs rise up and elevate zucchini, onion, pepper, and baby tomatoes  into tempting chunks wrapped in a cheese bath.

Mixed Vegetables and Cheese Frittata

Ingredients
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp butter
½ medium onion, thickly sliced
1 small zucchini, thickly sliced
1 pasilla, poblano or bell pepper, seed, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup halved baby tomatoes
1 tsp combo fresh thyme, savory, rosemary or other
salt and pepper
6 eggs
⅓ cup thick dairy such as yogurt or ricotta
2 Tbsp water or milk
½ cup crumbled or grated ricotta salata, feta, or cheddar cheese
¼ cup grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
½ cup green onions

Directions
1. Preheat oven broiler to 400°F degrees.
2. Heat 8-9” skillet heat over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sauté the onion to soften for 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high, add zucchini, the green pepper, fresh herbs and a light dusting of salt and pepper.
3. Cook to color the vegetables, 4- 5 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp water and cover for 1-2 minutes to soften the vegetables.
4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and liquid. Remove lid, toss the vegetables, add butter and a bit more olive oil if needed to coat bottom of pan.
5. Pour in the eggs and sprinkle with the cheese. Once the mixture begins to set, tilt the pan and gently lift the mass to loosen the bottom with a spatula and allow the egg liquid to run to the bottom of the pan. Continue to turn the pan, gently lifting to keep from sticking to pan and letting the loose eggs flow under.
6. When the eggs begins to set run the frittata under the broiler until the center is puffed and the top begins to brown in places. Remove and sprinkle with green onions or other fresh herbs. Serve hot, warm or room temperature, sliced into wedges. Serves 4.