There was a period in, I think, the late 70s, when the crepe pan was the must-have appliance—kind of like the instant pot today.
Everybody who had a respectable kitchen owned a crepe pan. It was just a round, 8 or 9-inch skillet with a perfectly flat bottom, and I know Dad rushed out and bought one. And for a few weeks we ate a lot of crepes.
My dad was a pancake guy, and he made excellent ones. He loved to cook; Julia Child was his girl. He’d sit in front of her PBS show and take notes. Mom got a kick out of it; she never liked cooking, and was happy to abdicate the fancy stuff to Dad. She always said, “I think he likes her because she’s so messy.” As was Dad. Stuff got spilled, experiments went wrong. But he also embodied joy and tranquility in the kitchen. I remember him focused on flipping flapjacks in our cast iron skillet, or on kneading bread with his giant powerful hands, his breathing even and deep.
As noted, Dad’s pancakes were outstanding; he made his own starter dough. But his crepe pan flirtation was brief. The issue, I think, was that, rather than fluffy pillows to absorb a blob of butter and a hearty pour of syrup, crepes by their very nature require a delicate touch. They’re also often wrapped around filling. Dad wasn’t big on cooking that involved steps. He liked to get things done in one go. Eventually, the crepe pan moved to the back of the cupboard and the pancakes returned.
Mushroom Arugula Crepes: Steps
I didn’t try cooking crepes for years, and in the late 80s, when I began to learn to cook, they were out of fashion. But when I whipped up my first batch for brunch, I was stunned at how easy they were.
Recently, I bought some mushrooms and had no idea why. So I thought, as I often do, what would Bert Greene do? If you’ve spent any time here, first, thank you. Second, you know Bert Greene is one of my cooking heroes. I stumbled on this recipe, which incorporated mushrooms and watercress. And while I had no watercress—alas, because watercress is amazing—I did have arugula. I thought, mushroom arugula crepes. Whoa. Also, why the hell not?
Greene loved to experiment, and over the course of his cookbooks, you find lots of variations on the crepe theme. And due to the fact that hardly anyone outside of Normandy eats crepes any more, I thought, wow, that sounds good. High time for a renaissance, don’t you think?
Crepe batter isn’t hugely different from pancake batter, though it’s thinner. It also lends itself to flavoring and improvisation. This version sautés mushrooms before throwing them in the blender. There, they go together in a flash, achieving the perfect aerated consistency, and a pretty pale green color.
You pour out a few tablespoons on a hot pan, swirl the pan to get the crepe thin. Let it sit for a minute or so….
…then flip it. Less than a minute later, it’s done, and you place it on a parchment-lined plate, run the end of a stick of butter over your pan, and pour in the next batch.
Now, Mr. Greene said the mix would yield 12 crepes. I don’t have a crepe pan, just a big flat skillet. So I couldn’t do quite the fancy wrist spin I could have done with Dad’s old crepe pan, due to the pan’s weight. I ended up with 6 crepes that are a little thicker, but so, so tasty. I filled them with the remainder of the mushrooms sauteed and dressed up with more arugula and a touch of blue cheese since I didn’t have sour cream. Oh, and I threw on a little bacon, which is totally optional.
Crepes are a luxurious lovely meal. Your eaters should feel thoroughly pampered; you may want to insist people recline on chaises upholstered in deep red velvet while you play louche German songs in the background. There’s zero need to tell anyone how easy they are. A good thing, as, once you serve a batch, you’re likely to get requests for more.
Maybe it’s aging. Maybe it’s not having my own kitchen for 2 months and eating out every damn day, and going at one point almost an entire week without, as Queen Victoria would say, A Successful Movement. Well, the movie version of her said that.
Now meanwhile, what I missed the most in 8 weeks of traveling was having my own kitchen. We did not have an AirBnB this time, but stayed with a family to up the immersion level (we’ve just returned from 8 weeks studying Spanish in South America). But I don’t like cooking in someone else’s kitchen, using their invariably crappy knives and cutting boards, and sharing the not-so-spotless fridge and stovetop. So what I looked forward to more than anything was cooking.
Then again, I didn’t want to think very much. If you follow my instagram (and if you don’t, I’d be deeply grateful if you would: @nanlechou), you have seen me downright rhapsodic lately about Tieghan over at Half Baked Harvest. Tieghan is a wonderful cook and photographer, and she prints her weekly menus in a really delightful post called “Nine Favorite Things,” which is more like 50. So I’ve been making her stuff, mostly verbatim, except for this dish, because…well, it’s mostly noodles. I also wasn’t crazy about ground chicken, because I prefer meatballs to little floaty ground chicken crumbles.
This was a super easy adapation. I kept Tieghan’s sesame oil, which is kind of genius; I also had plenty left over to roast some veggies the next day. You can see the sauce in the main pic above; I didn’t think to get a solo shot of it.
I made the zoodles and threw in a carrot.
You can buy these already spiraled, but wow, they’re kind of pricey. The spiralizer was a gift from my late and deeply missed brother-in-law, Larry Cobler, so when I cook with it I think of him and that is delightful.
I have been planning to do a meatball post forever, and finally, whoomp, here it is. For these, I used (of course) ground chicken, a mix of panko and uncooked oats for the bread, soaking those in a mix of about 1/1 ratio of soy sauce and sake. I also added a bunch of parsley and dill. Cilantro would have been awesome, but I didn’t have any, and lately I’m truly digging the subtlety of dill in combo with Asian flavors. There’s also a chopped up kale leaf and some cabbage in the veggie mix.
Finally I added an egg and some salt and mixed it all up.
For the sauce, I liked Tieghan’s idea of saucing the noodles with a mix of honey, soy sauce, and vinegar. But for me, sesame noodles have to have some kind of nut butter, because that’s how the take-out versions are in New York, where I learned to love them. So, as you’ll see in the recipe below, I just sort of screwed around and did my own thing.
The result was super yummy, filling without feeling heavy, and—gasp—actually completely paleo other than the grains (which a die hard paleo could leave out or replace with cooked quinoa).
So here they are: Sesame Zoodles fit for any hungry, hungry hippo on your list. Enjoy with a little green tea or a light rosé. Spring DOES eventually show up. This may help you remember that.
I am just now returning from south South America—Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, to be precise, and mostly Buenos Aires. For most Yanquis, when you think Argentina, you think beef, at least if you are a lot of people. Also probably tango, and….well, maybe not much else.
Well, let’s save tango for another post. But let’s deal with the whole meat thing now. I do not eat beef, and I’ve mostly avoided it throughout my life. (Save for an unfortunate decade that featured a monthly Taco Bell freakout. I would hang my head, but no longer do shame.) From an earlier age, I hated, hated, hated the texture, and wasn’t super thrilled about the flavor, for that matter. Mom used to cook it a lot, because Dad loved it. To this day, the smell of roast beef makes me want to vomit, something I once did at the dinner table when Mom, doing her best Joan Crawford, insisted I eat a slice. Boy, did I get a talking-to for that!
Nonetheless, when people find out that in the course of the past two years I’ve spent over 2 months in The Wonderland of Edible Cows, they get this sort of weird, glazed-over look of bliss on their faces, envying my good fortune being around all those steaks.
Well, I didn’t eat meat while I was in Argentina. Meanwhile, what the hell does this have to do with meatballs?
Why Ground Meat?
Truth is, I didn’t eat meat in Argentina because I still hate the texture of any red meat that isn’t ground up or turned into bacon. But I do like good, spiced-up ground meat, which explains the whole Taco Bell business. And I love a good meatball or meatloaf even more. I genuinely don’t feel right about eating beef, though I’m not going to get all preachy here when there are already so many people who do that much better. Then again, ground turkey and chicken taste like total meh unless you season the hell out of them. Hence, they make a fine go-to for taco filling, as well as being perfectly versatile on the meatball/meatloaf front, open to pretty much whatever flavors you want to throw in.
Whatever protein you choose, meatballs and meatloaf are super simple to make, and you can vary them endlessly—which is why I call this a meatball blueprint rather than a recipe, which implies you follow it to the letter.
My approach is specifically designed for poultry, but you can easily swap in what you want. I have yet to find a non-animal meatball that really works, btw, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of vegans from tackling the issue. (Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a favorite spokesperson on this particular front; here’s a recipe of hers for lentil meatballs that sound pretty darn good.)
Here’s how you do it.
The meat. As noted, mine is ground chicken or turkey thigh, because the thighs are fattier, which means: more flavor. Many people mix meat here, using some beef and some pork, and if you do mammals, go ahead. Honestly, birds are just fine with me.
Crumbs. Along with the egg, the addition of bread is what makes a meatball/loaf a meatball/loaf. The two substances work to bind the mix of meat into one coherent thing. According to Jane and Michael Stern in their marvelous Square Meals, “Extenders give the loaf that distinctive pulpy texture that soaks up gravy so well.” Extrapolate that to whatever sauce your meatballs are soaking in. Stale bread is classic, but panko, smashed crackers, rolled oats, or some cooked leftover rice or quinoa also work beautifully.
If you do choose a dry crumb option, be absolutely sure to soak the crumbs in a little liquid first. Milk—unsweetened plant milk is fine—is as classic as stale bread, but also consider broth or a mix of broth with a little sherry, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or whatever you want to flavor your meatloaf. If you have leftover soup or some salsa, they work pretty great. And even if you use a pre-cooked grain, which doesn’t need to soak, a 1/4 cup or so of a thicker soup or tomato sauce add flavor and moisture.
Onion and herbs: Yes. You need to finely chop some kind of onion, whether it’s green, red, or yellow, to add to your mix. Also whatever herbs you have on hand, as long as they fit the flavor profile. Parsley goes with everything. Dill, surprisingly, works beautifully in combination with soy sauce, especially if you mix it with cilantro (it’s the fennel/anise undertone). Basil, sage, tarragon: all will work, in pretty much any mix.
Optional but very excellent chopped vegetables: You can make your meatballs/loaf even healthier by chopping any greens you have lying around very fine and adding them to the mix as well. Note the cabbage in the above pic, as well as the egg.
Egg: For binding.
Salt: Essential, especially with poultry, which is super bland.
Seasonings: yes, the spices that fit with your sauce, but also any thicker sauce, like gochujang or good ol’ ketchup. You only need a spoonful of either of the latter, but man, do they add a nice flavor hit.
Meatball Blueprint: The Steps
Assemble your ingredients (see the list above).
Chop the veggies.
Mix everything together.
Form into meatballs, or push into a loaf pan or crock pot.
For meatballs, cook about 15-20 minutes at 400º. If you’re going to add the meatballs to a sauce that you’ll simmer for any length of time, you can go a little short, because they will cook more in the sauce. For meatloaf, about 50 minutes for a pound of meat (before the add-ins) at 375º. In a crockpot, about 2 hours on medium does the trick.
Enjoy! I’ll be adding this recipe in a quick minute; it’s chicken meatballs with zoodles, carrot spirals, and chopped cabbage in a sesame sauce. But you can put these babies in anything.
Jump straight to the Cookiepalooza 2018 recipe links.
I will start by admitting that I love the idea of making cookies. I like the aftermath of making cookies, despite the temptation factor. (By the way, November and December are the essential months to get your 10,000 steps in by hook or crook or….whatever. Because: cookies.)
But I don’t really enjoy making cookies. They seem like they’ll be so simple. Cream some butter and sugar, throw in an egg, add the dry ingredients. Voila! Cookies!
Except…..cookies. You gotta then actually form the damn things.
Look, I don’t even attempt to come up with baking recipes. Cooking is one thing; it’s intuitive and in some ways, the less precise you are, the better. Baking is an altogether different bête.
That’s why people are generally one or the other: great bakers or great cooks. Yes, of course annoying pastry wunderkinds exist. But that super detail-oriented, tedium-friendly approach necessary for perfect swirls of icing and caring about things like crumb size….well, it ain’t me.
(Weird but true: Mom was one of the least detail-oriented people I ever knew, yet a dandy baker. I shall never understand this.)
Anyway, when it comes to baking, I slavishly follow recipes. Every year, all the magazines go crazy with page after page of cookie goodness, and every year, I’m all, whoa, cookiepalooza!! This week, I decided to make the first two recipes each from Bon Appetit’s and Cooking Light’s respective December issues. Cooking Light’s, by the way, features this complete bummer of a cover.
And they still keep pestering me to re-up my subscription. So strange.
Anyway, here’s the report, with links. Notice that if you go to the links, their cookies are TONS more beautiful than mine. Explanations below. Grades are my opinion of the recipe, but as one professor used to say, grades are completely subjective. Please pop on over to the originals and give them a whack on your own.
Cookiepalooza 2018: Snickerdoodles with cornflakes and toffee
I completed this Bon Appetit recipe first. The resulting cookies are good, though not quite delectable enough that I’d make them again. Probably I should have used Skör bars like they suggested, but screw that, because I don’t even know where you get those. Also, you were supposed to sprinkle them with something called disco dust, and I refuse to spend 4 bucks on something called disco dust. I would rather just go the the disco already. Anyway, there’s not much to report with these. They’re fine, and I probably did something wrong, because they really seemed like a great idea. Crush the cornflakes more and you may have better luck. Also, when you jump to the link you’ll see that theirs are WAY prettier. Sigh.
Ok, these were called “Zebra-Striped” in the original recipe. Guess who didn’t read the recipe carefully? Yep. I dumped all the dry ingredients in one bowl in one giant cookie assembly line of dry ingredients, then went to make them and swore loudly and with great despair. Because the originals are GORGEOUS. Seriously, click that link and check them out. Mine: not hideous, but not so special.
Rather than toss the whole thing—a thought I did entertain for a minute—I scooped out as much of the cocoa powder and about half the flour. Fortunately, they don’t have baking powder or anything. I ended up with these kind of two-toned chocolate critters. And by heck, they rock. I didn’t roll them in exciting sugar because, again, hell with that. I imagine you’re getting the picture: When selecting a talent, I did not go to the front of the baking line. Nor the bedazzler line. I was too busy running around to a half dozen other lines like an insane person, thus emerging as the hodge-podge that is moi. And which my friends assure me is Super Delightful.
Anyway, even with the mishap, these turned out quite wonderful, super buttery, and really, how much chocolate is too much? Will this ever be answered? No. It will not. Also, getting these guys into that cool swirly thing is surprisingly easy.
Look, these totally worried me. (Original recipe over at this Cooking Light link.) For one thing, I made them in my big-ass mixer which weighs, I swear, one thousand pounds. I kinda hate that thing. It is SO hard to control the mixing. You just kinda have to hope for the best and stop and start it and scrape and do it again and again and I’m exhausted just at the memory.
The dough emerged crumbly. I pressed it together so I could get a thumbprint. You know what? These taste really aces. You fill the center with 2 parts melted chocolate chips to 1 part melted tahini, and let me just tell you the recipe tells you to make twice as much as you need. Which is great, because: homemade Nutella, but it’s not Nutella.
Interestingly, Bon Appetit also has a cookie with a tahini/chocolate mix, so it’s an idea that’s making the rounds. Or they’re working with the same group of recipe creators who are all, ok, how can I make this just different enough? The BA version is more like the Linzer cookies below, but with the tahini spread peeking through the window. Meanwhile, they also have a thumbpring cookie, but they put a pecan in theirs. I think candy is more fun.
One last thing: I decided to grind the candy canes in my little spice grinder and ended up with this sort of peppermint dust. While the busted candy canes look prettier, I like that there are no tooth-chipping surprises this way.
Cookiepalooza 2018: Linzer Cookies
Ok, these were the simplest to make. Like the shortbread cookies above, the originals win cookie beauty pageants. Click this link and see what I’m talking about. But these were also the biggest pain in the ass to make. Lots of rolling. Then baking. Then cutting those little holes out after rolling out the top cookies, and I don’t have a one-inch cutter because: I didn’t check. I mean, doesn’t everyone have one of those? No. Everyone does not. I used a 1/2 teaspoon and a knife and you can see these are not pristine. The asymmetry, however, is intentional. It gives the cookies “a more modern look” according to Cooking Light. Dude, I so want to be modern.
I also ran out of jam, but I had….my trusty leftover fake Nutella! Hooray!
These are pretty swell, though I do have to know them down to a B+ primarily because I like super gooey cookies, and of course that’s not going to work in this case. Oh, I also forgot to sprinkle them with powdered sugar, because that makes a mess and to hell with that.
Anyway, the recipe yields a lovely lemony sugar cookie that really isn’t anything like classic Linzer dough, which has ground almonds, not almond flour, and a sieved hard-boiled egg yolk mixed in for some reason. All that said, I pigged down a few. My son said these were his favorites.
Cookiepalooza! 2018: Recipe Links
There you have them. Here are the links all in one place. And if you do pop over, explore the approximately 9 billion other cookie recipes as well. And you know, try at least one. This time of year, everybody loves a cookie. Even my carb-phobic husband. Ha! Gotcha, husband.
Also, the following sites are particularly wonderful on the cookie front. Over at Half Baked Harvest, Tieghan routinely blows minds. Lindsay at Pinch of Yum delights continuously (and check out her button-cute new baby, Solvi). Finally, Chocolate Covered Katie comes up with all sorts of original ways to be vegan and delicious.
Ok, regular petits et grands choux (I just called you small and large cabbages…in French! I’m all about the culture) must acknowledge I love me some quiche. And while I completely dig a buttery, beautifully flaky crust, that crusts digs me, enough to permanently deposit itself on my thighs. So I’m all over the alternative crust bandwagon. The original recipe that inspired my version appears in the December 2018 Cooking Light magazine.
One of the things that excited me most was the chance to use a hen of the woods mushroom that found its way into my kitchen. I think my daughter picked it up. This super-crazy mushroom occupies center stage on the cutting board.
Nuts, yes? But so delish. The aroma wafting through the air screamed classic, earthy mushroom goodness. (So often, store-bought mushrooms bring more texture than flavor to a meal.) You just cut all the little floaty things off the top, then dice the the bottom small. The recipe actually calls for 4 cups, so I added a package of store-bought mushrooms, chopped up.
Sweet Potato Crust Quiche: How To
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, slice the peeled sweet potato thin. I used 2 smallish-to-medium ones here. Line a pie plate with them, then bake at 400º.
Cook times, by the way, represent my biggest departure from the original. The original said to bake the slices for 15 minutes. Mine were nowhere near done, so I gave them another 15. THEN I could gently press them against the sides and bottom of the sprayed pie plate.
While the crust bakes, you sauté the mushrooms.
Also, mix eggs with milk (I used cashew) and grated mozzarella with thinly sliced chard. You could also gently sauté the chard leaves with the mushrooms. I like a lot of greens, more than the recipe called for, so I ended up with a green top rather than that nice yellow egg mixture to bind everything together. That said, I did like that the chard kept a little texture—not much, but I’m not big on mushy anything, and particularly greens. I also threw in some Parmesan not called for in the original, because I love cheese and think it makes a quiche more luscious.
Now, you have all your layers.
Add the sautéed mushrooms as the first layer. I’d added finely chopped chard stem to the sauté mix, btw; that’s what the little red things are. Also, be sure to salt and pepper everything.
The egg mix goes on top of that.
Then you bake it for about 20-35 minutes, til the eggs are set.
The finished product looks overly dark. Frankly, the pesto called for in the original, which I added, is a mistake. I thought it might be; pesto and sweet potatoes? Weird. But otherwise, this worked out to be a lovely brunch. Most interesting take-away here: the sweet potato crust. You can fill this with pretty much anything. In fact, I’ll experiment with a southern-inspired version later this week, and if it works, I’ll post. Meanwhile, enjoy this comfy, healthy, paleo/gluten-free/vegetarian take on quiche goodness.
I love rice: long grain, short, jasmine, sticky, wild (which isn’t really rice, btw). But I find I’m eating it less and less. Maybe it’s aging; despite my previous admission to loving carbs, I find I’m eating them less.
Now fried rice has long been a comfort food for me, using real leftover rice, and especially if I’m watching something on TV or a movie (and these days, is there a difference??) and somebody busts out the Chinese take-out. But because I eat less rice anyway, the chances of me having a leftover batch to fry up are close to zero. Cauliflower fried rice works as a natural, super-easy substitute.
But look: Cauliflower rice can easily taste like b.s. Real rice squashes under your teeth in a pleasant way. Cauliflower rice, particularly if you go too crazy with the food processor, gets mealy. I don’t buy the frozen version, because the freezing process plays havoc with the water content of foods. So something naturally prone to mealiness will only get more so.
The trick for me is to roast the coarse cauliflower rice ahead of time. Then, at the end, simply toss it with some veggies that you’ve sauteed while your “rice” roasts. Voila: Cauliflower rice with very little hands-on time.
Cauliflower Fried Rice: The Step by Step
First, heat your oven to 400º. While it preheats, chop up your cauliflower florets in a food processor. Before processing, cut the florets to be fairly uniform size. Don’t overprocess so that they become crumbly or actual rice-sized if you want them to have some texture. Toss the “rice” in a bowl with some sesame oil, spread on a parchment covered sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes, until they get some color.
As the “rice” roasts, get your veggies ready: sliced scallions (keep the white and green parts separate), minced ginger and garlic, and julienned or chopped carrots, peppers, and snow peas. (Or other veggies you have in the fridge and want to use up; just be sure to cut fairly uniform shapes.) About 7-10 minutes before the cauliflower is finished roasting, heat your pan, then add oil. Peanut provides classic Chinese flavor, but a taste-free oil like canola or avocado also works nicely. (Don’t use olive.) Add the scallion whites, garlic, ginger, and the julienned stuff. Add soy sauce and sake, which will bubble up and be all steamy and fragrant.
Right about the time you achieve maximum bright colored, still crisp sauteed veggies, your timer will ring. Dump the roasted rice right into the pan. Add chopped cilantro (the stems are really nice here; no need to separate them from the leaves if you don’t want to) and scallion greens.
You can top with toasted sesame seeds, peanuts, or cashews. Cauliflower fried rice makes a lovely vegan main, or a light, healthy side for the protein of your choice, particularly if you’ve done a classic Chinese-inspired cooking treatment (like this tea-smoked chicken, for instance). Below, note the radish and pea shoot salad on the side: just thinly sliced radish and pea shoots, no dressing, and you’re good to go. Enjoy.