Thursday, September 18, 2014

Smoky Honey Chicken, Zucchini and Cashew Stir-Fry

Regular readers know that I love smoky flavors, and I'm always looking for new and interesting ways to work smoke into dishes (without using actual smoke, since I live in an apartment).

While we were in Rehoboth Beach last month, I discovered a wonderful new spice store there, The Spice & Tea Exchange. It has a wonderful collection of spices (and probably teas too--I'm not much of a tea drinker), including interesting chiles and even salts. Awhile ago I bought some smoked sea salt, but I've been dissatisfied with it. It doesn't really smell smoky, let alone taste like it. But the hickory-smoked sea salt I bought at Spice & Tea Exchange is incredibly smoky. I've started experimenting with it in different dishes, including sprinkling it on broiled salmon, where it lends the bit of smoke that's missing from not having grilled the salmon over coals.

Sweet-and-smoky is a combination that I find particularly fun to play with and which flavors the sauce in this easy stir-fry. Zucchini is good this time of year too, so I wanted to take advantage of that as well.

Smoky Honey Chicken, Zucchini and Cashew Stir-Fry

Makes 2-3 portions

1 lb. chicken breast cutlets pat dry with paper towels and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1-2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. arrowroot powder (may use cornstarch)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (may use canola oil)
2-3 cups zucchini (green and yellow summer squash), cut into 1/4-inch coins
1/2 cup unsalted roasted cashews
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. minced ginger
6-8 scallions, divided into white and green parts, white part thinly sliced, green part sliced on an angle
Pinch (or two, as desired) of red chili pepper flakes
2 tbsp. low-sodium tamari (or low-sodium soy sauce)
1 tbsp. rice vinegar (may use white wine vinegar)
2 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. dark sesame oil
1/4 cup warm water
Cooked white or brown rice (for serving)
Black sesame seeds

1. Add the chicken to a bowl and sprinkle with arrowroot powder. Toss to lightly coat and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan or frying pan until very hot, the oil should almost be smoking. Add the zucchini and sauté until lightly browned, stirring occasionally (but not constantly), about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

3. Add another 1 tbsp. oil to the pan. When hot, add the chicken, and sauté until browned, stirring occasionally for about 5-6 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside with the zucchini.

4. Add cashews to the pan and sauté a couple minutes until they start to brown a little bit, then add the garlic, ginger, white scallions and red chili pepper flakes and sauté about 30 seconds to a minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant.

5. Stir together the remaining 2 tsp. of arrowroot powder in a small bowl with the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sesame oil and warm water. Add to the pan. When the mixture starts to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat to medium. Add back the sautéed zucchini and chicken and stir to combine with the sauce and heat through. Turn the heat off and add the chopped scallion greens. Serve over white or brown rice topped with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Feed: September 17, 2014

This is my recipe for Farro Risotto with Pancetta and Kale. For another take on farro, check out Ellie Krieger's article below.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Washington Post: “The New Wave Is All About Building Your Meal from the Bottom Up,” by Lavanya Ramanathan.
I have a few weekly habits, two of which are Chipotle and Sweetgreen, the king of fast casual and the more recent (and locally owned) purveyor of quality fast-casual salads. I also enjoy Merzi, Cava, District Taco and Shophouse, just a few more of the burgeoning fast-casual restaurant concept that has taken particularly well to D.C. Ramanathan writes that there are 85 Chipotle restaurants within 25 miles of D.C.—wow! In this article, she examines not just how fast-casual has taken root in D.C. but transformed what “fast food” means nationwide.

Washington Post: “Nourish: A Farro Salad That’s Easy to Warm Up to,” by Ellie Krieger.
For her second Nourish column, Krieger puts the ancient wheat grain farro in the spotlight, recommending it for its easy preparation and chewy texture, along with a recipe for Herbed Farro Salad With Walnuts, Feta and Spinach.

Washington Post: “Sommelier Certification Has Become a Point of Contention,” by Dave McIntyre.
So, a sommelier is not just someone in a restaurant who pours wine (that would more appropriately be called a “wine steward”), nor is it just a “wine expert,” a point made during a recent great discussion by the guys at My Poor Liver Podcast. Along similar lines, McIntyre, the Post’s wine columnist, takes a look at what the profession and the term “sommelier” means today. In my mind, it should be a combination of the two things mentioned above: someone trained in both wine knowledge and providing good service executing the two with the goal of facilitating a pleasurable dining experience.

Fast Co. Design, “How Fake Is Food Styling?” by Shaunacy Ferro.
In the age of Instagram, food styling has come a long way from painting unripe strawberries with lipstick to adopting a more “natural” look. Still, Ferro explains, photoshop makes it easier to make food look better in post-production, reducing the need for cosmetic augmentation during shooting. How styled are the photos on my site you might wonder? Everything you see is real food; I would never add anything weird or inedible just to make it look better. I do adjust the lighting of some photos, but mostly because the artificial light in my kitchen tends to make some things look yellower and paler than they really are.

Huffington Post: “The Psychological Impact Of Diet Soda,” by Tom Jacobs.
In case you haven’t noticed, diet soda, once favored by low-cal drinkers everywhere, has fallen significantly out of favor due to concerns about the health effects of artificial sweeteners. It’s also been reported recently that drinking diet soda doesn’t help you lose weight. Jacobs’ article explains why and it’s fascinating, with research suggesting that diet soda activates a craving, but then doesn’t satisfy it, causing us to then react differently to other sugary foods.

CNN: “Don't Let Classic Restaurants Vanish,” by Kate Krader.
Those who follow the New York restaurant scene know the city is unfortunately losing some great restaurants soon, including WD-50 and Union Square Café. Not because they aren’t good or even successful, but rather are being forced out due to massive rent increases, always a concern in economically tricky Manhattan.

New York Times: “Deciphering the Menu,” by Jennifer Schuessler
Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food, which I’m reading right now (and greatly enjoying), gets a fine write up in the Times. Schuessler’s story also includes a visit with Jurafsky to Southern restaurant Root & Bone, where he enjoys some pretty amazing sounding corn (note my use of “amazing” a fairly generic term for describing something positive—try to think of something more descriptive for saying something good about food—it’s tough! A point Jurafsky makes in his book)

New York Times: “Cereals Begin to Lose Their Snap, Crackle and Pop,” by Stephanie Strom.
Apparently I’m in the minority (or maybe a shrinking majority) because I still eat cereal for breakfast most days. Strom writes about how people, wary of cereal’s sugar content, are seeking other options like yogurt.

Eater: “Eater Will Look Very Different in Seven Days,” by Amanda Kludt.
Eater, especially its DC version, has become one of my favorite food websites (I get some of the stories I share in The Feed from their daily roundups of food stories; since the New York Times dropped this feature, I really appreciate that another publication makes a great daily list).  So I’m curious how the site is going to revamp itself next week. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Greek Salad with Chicken

Our friends and family know that Chris and I are creatures of habit. We like routine. For us, it's not a "rut," as these routines often are things we look forward to each week, like getting Tex-Mex, eating at Chipotle before getting groceries on Saturday afternoon and having a midweek glass of wine (or cocktail) on Wednesdays.

For years, we've made Tuesday "salad night," a move to make one of our weekly meals loaded with fresh vegetables and low in carbohydrates. Since I started my blog a couple years ago, having new content to write about has meant that we don't repeat meals nearly as often as we used to. I'm almost always trying to come up with new salads for Tuesday nights, which has made salad a regular recipe item on my site.

But Before Cook In / Dine Out, on Tuesdays we usually ate Greek Salad, or some sort of derivative thereof. 

There's a bit of debate as to what constitutes Greek Salad. Traditionally, it doesn't have lettuce, but it's common to find lettuce in the United States and other countries. Since I made Greek Salad as an entree salad, I include lettuce, and I also like to include sautéed chicken. Tomatoes, kalamata olives and cucumber are definitely essential, as is feta cheese. If you can find imported Greek feta, I recommend that over domestic American versions. I don't always include onion, but some thinly sliced red onion is good, especially if you soak them in ice water for about 10 minutes to reduce their bite. Bell peppers are optional, as is a garnish of a pickled peperoncini. 

What I don't think belongs in Greek salad is bread. This isn't fattoush, so no pitas; nor is it panzanella, so no toasted croutons. This is a salad where the vegetables should get the glory.

Greek Salad with Chicken

Serves 2 (dinner portions)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. boneless-skinless chicken breast cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
3-4 cups lettuce, such as red leaf, green leaf or romaine
1/2 cucumber, partly peeled (I peel the cucumber into stripes) cut in half, seeded, and sliced into 1/4-inch thick half rounds
1 cup cherry tomatoes, such as sungold tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup 1/2-inch cubes Greek feta cheese
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Fill a medium bowl with ice water. Add the sliced onions and set aside for 10-12 minutes. Drain the onions and add to a large bowl.

2. Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add chicken, season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and chili pepper flakes. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes, turning halfway. Set aside to cool, then chop into 1-inch pieces.

3. To the large bowl with the onion, add the lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese and parsley. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Toss to combine. Serve on plates topped with the chicken.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dallas Drinks: The Lucy

Dallas Drinks is a co-creation with Dallas Decoder, honoring the characters of the television show Dallas--both the classic series and the newer TNT Dallas, which continues the Ewing family saga. See all of the Dallas Drinks here.

Lucy Ewing, one of Southfork's youngest residents, could be a good girl, but she could also get herself into a lot of trouble. She excelled at getting kidnapped, for example. Although generally pleasant, she could be sharp-tongued, especially around J.R. This refreshing but tart cocktail nods to Lucy's duality.

Dallas Drinks: The Lucy

1 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 1/2 oz. American dry gin
3/4 oz. pear liqueur
2 dashes Bittermens Burlesque bitters
2 oz. Fever Tree tonic water

Add the lemon juice and one rosemary sprig to a cocktail shaker. Muddle the herbs into the juice, then add the gin, pear liqueur and bitters. Add ice and shake until cold. Double-train into a rocks glass with ice. Top with tonic water and garnish with the other rosemary sprig. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

When it comes to food, Chris and I are generally on the same page. But one thing that I really like that he's not a big fan of is shrimp. So on a recent weeknight when I had the home to myself, I decided to make this wonderful recipe I found in Bon Appétit for shrimp and grits.

This Southern classic is traditionally served a breakfast, although it's not uncommon to see it on dinner menus (DC's Vidalia has a shrimp and grits dish with mustard greens and ham that sounds amazing).

A particularly adventurous aspect of this dinner was that I peeled and de-veined the shrimp myself--an experience worth doing if you're curious about what it entails and can't find the already peeled and de-veined kind.

Although Whole Foods often has already peeled and deveined shrimp, when I made this dish, they only had the kind that still has the shell and legs attached. The shell, which protects the shrimp's abdomen, is called the carapace. Using your fingers on the underneath side, it's pretty easy to separate the legs and shell from the body. You can pull the legs off first, but it's not necessary. The shell will come off in one piece, generally consisting of about three segments. Leave the final segment before the tail intact (the segment without any legs attached).

The deveining part is a bit more complicated, and also deceptive. See, there are two parts of the shrimp that could conceivably be the "vein," although in truth, neither is. On the bottom side (the side where the legs were attached), there is a visible "vein" that is the shrimp's central nerve. You can remove this if you want, but most people just leave it there, especially for small to medium-size shrimp. The "vein" people talk about removing is on the back of the shrimp (the side under the shell). This is actually the shrimp's intestinal tract, sometimes referred to as the "sand vein." To remove it, use a paring knife to make a slit about 1/8-inch deep on the back of the shrimp from the head end to the tail. The vein may be dark gray but sometimes (I suppose if the shrimp hasn't eaten recently), it's just white. Use the tip of the knife to pry the vein out and discard it. The shrimp is now ready to cook.

Since I'd never done this before, it took me awhile to get through the shrimp--about a half an hour--and my fingers smelled a bit "shrimpy" afterwards, even after multiple washings. For a few more dollars, if available, I'd probably buy the already prepped kind. But if you like this kind of prep work, it's really not that bad.

Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit

3 ears of corn, husks removed
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup grits (not instant)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 lb. large shrimp, peeled, deveined, with tails intact
1 tbsp. chopped fresh chives

1. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the kernels off of 2 ears of corn into a medium bowl, catching as much corn juice as possible. Run a knife over the cobs to extract any remaining juice and let it drip into the bowl. Using a knife (or specialized tool), remove the whole kernels from the third ear of corn. Discard the cobs.

2. Combine broth, milk and water in a large (4 qt.) saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so that liquid is at a simmer (a touch below medium) and whisk in the grits. Simmer, whisking frequently, until the grits are very tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir in the butter and grated corn with corn juice. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside for about 15 minutes.

3. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan or frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, oregano and paprika and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the whole orb kernels and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, tossing occasionally, until cooked through, about 5-6 minutes.

4. Spoon the corn grits into a shallow bowl and serve topped with the cooked shrimp and corn mixture. Garnish with fresh chives.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Corn Chowder

Summer is coming to a close, which means markets--both the farmers variety and the typical grocery store--are loaded with fresh vegetables. One of the great ones I find is particularly good from our farmers market is sweet corn. The corn that New Morning Farm sells in my neighborhood market on Saturday mornings is juicy and sweet and pretty affordable too.

Although we usually enjoy it boiled on the cob, I've found a few other good uses for summer sweet corn. This chowder, for example, is a great way to enjoy is corny sweetness as a soup. This is a pretty simple recipe that uses potato to give the chowder body and onion, garlic and herbs for additional flavor.

Corn Chowder
Adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence for Food Network

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (if desired, you can make your own corn broth, which would be delicious in this dish)
2 cups heavy cream
2 medium-size potatoes, peeled and diced
6 ears of corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the vegetables have softened, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Dust the vegetables with the flour and stir to coat. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, increase heat to bring to a boil and boil the mixture for about 7 minutes until the potatoes break down.

3. Cut the kernels off the corn cobs and add the kernels to the soup, discarding the cobs. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls garnished with fresh parsley.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Feed: September 10, 2014

Embrace science: make a better Chocolate Chip Cookie.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

NPR: “The Science Behind Baking Your Ideal Chocolate Chip Cookie,” by Anne Miller. 
Cookie recipes are fascinating, since there is a lot of science behind them. The balance of fat, sugar, flour and leavening, as well any liquid ingredients, defines their texture and appearance from whether soft and cakey, thin and crunchy and ooey-gooey. Miller examines how the modification of particular cookie ingredients will lead to a different outcome.

New York Times: “Who Made That Cocktail Shaker?” by Melanie Rehak.
Rehak details the history of the cocktail shaker in this piece, which, not surprisingly, relies on the detailed cocktail history knowledge of David Wondrich. She also includes a helpful reminder about which types of cocktails should be shaken vs. stirred.

Washington Post: “Beer: Session IPAs offer the taste of hops without the kick of alcohol,” by Greg Kitsock.
“I like hops. I don’t like to get drunk,” said Black Squirrel bar owner Amy Bowman, summing up the appeal of Session IPAs in this great piece on the lower-alcohol but still very hoppy ales. 

Washington Post: “Plate Lab: Risotto with Base Notes That Sing,” by Bonnie S. Benwick.
Spicy Spanish paella sofrito is the inspiration behind this chorizo risotto served at Tico, the new restaurant on 14th Street  from chef Michael Schlow. 

Washington Post: “How climate change is affecting the world’s biggest food company,” by Roberto A. Ferdman.
This might sound obvious to a lot of people, but climate change isn’t just about whether it’s hot or cold outside; it can have direct, lasting impacts. One of those is how it affects our food supply. Ferdman’s Q&A with José Lopez, vice president and global head of operations of Nestlé S.A., offers insight about how the world’s largest food company is impacted by this, as well as how it is addressing the issue.

Huffington Post: “Is Organic Food Better for You?” by Danielle Nierenberg.
Whether organically grown foods are better for you than conventionally grown products has been a hot topic of debate for years. Nierenberg reports on a new Newcastle University study that concludes that organic foods are better for you, with more antioxidants and fewer pesticides. 

Epicurious: “The 8 Essential Biscuit Archetypes,” by Gabriella Vigoreaux.
To mark National Biscuit Month, Epicurious has the great rundown of eight different common biscuit types, including drop, buttermilk and savory.

Gizmodo: “This Cocktail Concocted By IBM's Watson Isn't Half Bad,” by Adam Clark Estes.

What happens when a supercomputer is asked to come up with a cocktail? It makes something fruity, tropical and blue, very very blue.