Saturday, March 16, 2013

slow cooker lamb tagine

Technically speaking, tagine is an middle eastern earthenware pot for cooking, but in translation to the Western world, it's come to mean a style of cooking that is low and slow in liquid, like braising.  Translation to the busy American kitchen:  crock pot.  

I'm excited to share with you a slow cooker meal that's full of spice, texture, and perfect for a cozy dinner in bad weather.  It has some surprises, too.  Hearty lamb, fresh ginger, sweet apricots, chick peas, and a spiced tomato broth.

I started with a traditional low-and-slow braised lamb recipe, traditional Moroccan ingredients and spices, and modified it for the slow cooker.  Maybe it doesn't capture all of the smokiness and the full Moroccan experience, but it's a pretty close approximation that's accessible for everyone.  You'll think you're in a fancy restaurant.  If you want to dress it up, serve with preserved lemon or tangy yogurt as a condiment, add saffron to the couscous, or use your fancy china.  You can afford to experiment because this recipe makes a ton of leftovers.

No matter the garnish, be sure to serve this with couscous to soak up the sauce.  The recipe follows.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

lemon buttermilk pie

I think I've found the perfect pie.  It's a pie lover's pie, a dessert lover's pie, a fruit lover's pie.  A sweet, crunchy crust with a creamy, slightly tart filling.  Just enough comfort and just enough spring.  I am in love.

So in love that when I found the perfect crust, I invested a few extra minutes in late night light braiding long strips of dough in a decorative edge.  (This extra step is completely unnecessary, of course, and so is the Instagram filter.  Can we get a real life view, you ask?)

And I happily spent several more recipe test runs adapting traditional buttermilk pie ratios to the right lemony-vanilla balance for a single pie... to share with you.  I tried more flour, less flour, extra buttermilk, meyer lemons, regular lemons, and so on, until it was just right.  It's my gift to you, friends, and it's so good.

By the way, happy 6th birthday, Boo Bear.  We love you. 

The recipe for my new favorite pie follows.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

pantry staples

It's time to be practical.  I started a list on my chalkboard.  A list of things in my pantry that I can count on.  To build a recipe, to improve a recipe, to save a recipe.  It's the basics, but my version.

Once I started writing, the list came easily.  What do I get at Costco because I go through it so fast?  Which containers are at once full in my pantry, half-empty in my fridge, and totally empty in the recycling?  In other words, these staples are always getting used in my house.  Kevin volunteered a few, too.  Here they are, in no particular order:  my culinary lifelines.

1.  Sriracha hot sauce 

So delicious, it's genius.  And for a lot of cooks, it's not a condiment, it's an actual ingredient.  (An essential component in turkey and pork meatloaf, for example.)  Try this soul-warming and super-healthy vegetable soup that uses sriracha as a key ingredient.  It's a regular low-calorie weeknight dinner on our menu when we need to lighten things up.

2.  Black beans (canned or dry)

Truly a main ingredient, black beans are the star in soups, chilis, tostadas, salads, and side dishes.  One of my favorite food blogs recently features two fantastic easy dinner dishes starring black beans.  Cookie and Kate's baked tostadas with tomatillo black bean salsa are unbelievably easy.  And her vegetarian chili will win over meat lovers, too.  (Note: When I make Kate's chili, I sub in diced sweet potatoes for the butternut squash and omit the cinnamon.)

3.  Chipotle chiles

Speaking of chili, I rely on canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce for Latin food inspired by some of my favorite chefs, including Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay.  I've got a couple of chiles bubbling away in the crock pot with a pork tenderloin as I write this, y'all.  Chipotles make perfect veggie or turkey chili and add surprising spice to sweet potatoes.

4.  Tomato paste

For a time I actually purchased cans of the stuff in a case at Costco, just so I would never be without rich spaghetti sauce.  And I recently discovered you can get fancy Italian tomato paste in a tube to keep in the fridge.  If I can get a case of that, then I think I'll be set.  The fabulous Deb at Smitten Kitchen uses tomato paste to thicken up a sauce for a budget-friendly pasta with white beans.

5.  Chicken or vegetable stock 

Bulk. Bulk. Bulk.  Sauces, soups, braises, crock pot recipes, and cooking liquid for grains, lentils, greens.  It's a must have.

6.  Panko bread crumbs

There's no comparison to panko bread crumbs for light, crispy coatings.  I keep these on hand to mix in recipes, like the turkey and pork meatloaf, or for breading dijon chicken breasts like Paula Deen does.  You can find them at the grocery store with the other bread crumbs in the baking aisle or in the International aisle near the soy sauce and soba noodles.

7.  Chick peas (canned)

For a snack or sandwich spread, it's easier than you might think to make homemade hummus. I read recently about an easy approach to making smoother hummus:  microwave the chick peas first to break down the starch.  Read the whole story and impressively simple recipe published in the Greensboro News and Record.  I like to add a splash of tabasco to my homemade hummus.  And have you tried roasting chick peas in the oven with spices for a snack?  Crispy and tasty.  But more often than not, I'm throwing chick peas (plain or crispy-roasted) in a salad to add a little more substance.

8.  Arborio rice

Combined with #5 and a little white wine, you can make perfect risotto as a base for just about anything you have in your freezer.  Martha can teach you how.  In my favorite version, I stir in some sauteed shrimp and thinly sliced zucchini.

9.  Chocolate chips

You never know when you might need to bake warm chocolate chip cookies, scones, or a cheesecake.  I'm just saying.  For cookies, I always use the recipe on the back of the bag or the box of butter.  Why mess with perfection?  But when we don't have time for all of that, you might find my husband sprinkling chocolate chips on a spoonful of peanut butter for dessert.

10.  Pine nuts

Pine nuts are kind of expensive, and they can go rancid quickly, but they keep quite a while when stored in an airtight bag or container in the freezer.  Pine nuts are the binding ingredient for traditional pesto, of course, which is so incredibly delicious.  I make mine in the food processor, but I enjoy this blogger's description of how to make classic pesto like an Italian grandmother-- with good ingredients and a sharp knife.  And I love Sara Forte's lemon pesto with lentil meatballs.

I toss pine nuts in a dry, small skillet to toast them golden brown before using in recipes or in place of croutons on salads.  They're delicious with spinach, couscous, rice, or tossed with sauteed green beans.  I've also made a heck of a tart crust following Thomas Keller's direction.  Hard to beat an ingredient that works so well in sweet and savory dishes.

There you have it, friends.  10 indispensable ingredients that you can always find in my pantry. Time to stock up.