Friday, November 20, 2009

Thai Steak Salad

What I feel like eating is usually pretty clear to me, but last night I was fresh out of ideas. Absolutely nothing sounded good, or at least not enough to justify the effort. I was tired and uninspired. So before giving up, I shot Tristan a text and was surprised when he answered in record time with the words “Thai Steak Salad.” Hey, that sounded pretty good to me, too!

This is yet another recipe inspired by my food hero Cynthia Lair. It involves crispy salad greens, thinly sliced flank steak, cilantro and a zesty lime juice dressing – a spectacular combination. As a matter of fact, it’s so tasty that it was the very first meal I made for Tristan 3 ½ years ago. Maybe that’s why we’re still together….

Thai Steak Salad

If you’re trying to impress but don’t want the hassle, this recipe is for you. Feel free to double the dressing and, before adding the sugar, pour half of it over the flank steak to marinate for 2 - 24 hours (then add the sugar to the dressing for the salad). Just remove flank steak from marinade, pat dry and broil as usual. This salad also tastes really good with cucumber and red onion. Crispy egg rolls are a dynamite accompaniment.

Serves 2 as an entree. 

4 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce (or hot pepper oil)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, chopped 

1 pound flank steak
Salt & pepper

1 small head lettuce, washed well and spun dry
4 red radishes, sliced thin 
1 avocado, sliced into strips 

Preheat broiler to high and place oven rack about 6 inches below the broiler. 

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Set aside.

Season flank steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet/pan and place under the broiler. Broil about 7 minutes per side for medium. Remove from oven, transfer to cutting board and let rest while you assemble the salad.

Place washed and dried salad greens into the bowl with the dressing. Add sliced radishes and toss well. Divide salad among plates (2 large servings if this is the entree) and fan avocado slices around the outside. Slice flank steak against the grain into thin strips. Place slices on top of salad and dig in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beer Can Chicken

I had a good time with this one. As a matter of fact, I still chuckle every time I picture it coming out of the oven. But more on that in a minute.

Sunday. It’s one of the only days of the week when things slow down enough to have a nice, leisurely dinner. And when I think Sunday dinner, I think roast chicken. Now I have to admit, my classic roast chicken is pretty fine but it has gotten a bit predictable. Then the idea of finally trying the beer can method hit me. It seems to be a popular barbecue novelty but many an internet review promised good results from the oven, too.

So I tucked loads of whole garlic cloves underneath the skin (a habit from my classic preparation) and rubbed the chicken with a simple dry rub. Then the magic part. I popped a can of lager, took a few healthy swigs (*only because it needs to be half full) and, well, positioned the chicken over the can so that it was snugly between the legs and inside the cavity. (Ouch)

Less than 2 hours later, it was a sight to behold: a crispy-skinned, delicious-smelling bird… still sitting in a compromised position. All I could think was that he must’ve been awfully naughty for karma to come back like this.

The rub makes the skin even more delicious than usual and the meat… so tender and juicy from the beer. If you haven’t tried it, do so. Asap.

Beer Can Chicken 
A wonderful change from your classic Sunday favorite.

1 whole roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
10 whole garlic cloves, skins removed
Vegetable oil

Dry Rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 12-oz can beer

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove any innards from the chicken cavity and dry the outside using paper towels. Tuck whole garlic cloves all over under skin (and a few in the cavity for luck). Drizzle a little oil over the chicken and rub all over.

In a small bowl, mix dry rub ingredients. Rub mixture all over chicken, being sure to coat all surfaces evenly, leaving about 1 teaspoon of mixture in bowl.
Open beer can and pour out or drink a few glugs so that it's just over half full. Using a bottle opener, punch a few extra holes in the top of the can. Pour remaining spice mixture into beer -- be careful, it will probably foam up at this point.

Place beer can in a roasting pan and place chicken over it so that it fits snugly into the cavity and sits upright. Transfer to oven and bake until the outside is crispy, the juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 180°, up to 1 ½ hours.

Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes, mainly so that everyone can have a good laugh. Recruit an extra set of hands to carefully lift the chicken off the can. Carve up and serve!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soba Noodles with Coconut Peanut Sauce and Boiled Greens

I'm sad to report that we've entered the dark and rainy season in Seattle. Besides feeling covetous toward my neighbors to the south, these atmospheric changes have made something quite evident: my food moods are entirely dictated by the weather. 

Of course this is nothing new. I have a hard time getting enough Caprese salad during the hot summer months, or roast chicken and polenta in the winter, or pea vines in Spring. Really, who needs a weathervane when we have our stomachs! And this week was no exception. 

It's been very, very wet, and coupled with the fact that we’ve had lots of social obligations without much time to cook, we were craving something warm and comforting yet healthy. I knew exactly what to pull from the old repertoire: soba noodles with coconut peanut sauce and boiled greens.

The inspiration for this dish goes back to grad school where I was a teaching assistant for my friend and mentor, Cynthia Lair (of Cookus Interruptus), in her popular Whole Foods Production class at Bastyr University. Her version uses marinated, pan-fried tofu and a sauce made with peanut butter, ginger and coconut milk. Since I prefer a little spice, this version includes a heaping spoonful of red curry paste. And wow, is it good!

Despite this being the wet socks and soggy jeans season, it's pretty incredible that I can curl up on the sofa with a hot bowl of this stuff and actually not want to be anywhere else. 

Soba Noodles with Coconut Peanut Sauce and Boiled Greens
This dish is incredibly versatile. Leave out the tofu altogether or replace it with chicken. Whatever greens are in season will work beautifully.


4 cloves garlic, sliced
6-8 slices (1/8-inch thick) fresh gingerroot
1 cup water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce

1 pound firm tofu or skinless, boneless chicken (thighs and/or breasts)
2 tablespoons high heat oil, such as safflower or peanut oil

1 package (8.8 oz) Japanese soba noodles
1 bunch greens, such as Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach or beet greens
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Coconut Peanut Sauce:
1 heaping tablespoon red curry paste (or to taste)
¼ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ 14-oz can (7 oz total) coconut milk

In a wide, flat bowl or baking pan, combine all marinade ingredients. Cut tofu into ½-inch slices; then cut each slice diagonally into 2 triangles. Put tofu (or chicken pieces) into marinade and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

For tofu: In a large skillet, heat oil on high. Remove tofu pieces from marinade; using paper towels, pat completely dry. Place triangles in hot skillet and brown on both sides, 6-8 minutes total. Remove to paper towels to drain.

For chicken: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Remove chicken pieces from marinade and pat dry. Place chicken in skillet at cook on both sides until browned and the insides are no longer pink when cut, about 10 minutes total. Remove to cutting board and let sit, covered with foil, until ready to plate. When ready, slice chicken diagonally.

Prepare soba noodles according to package directions (they're the same as boiling spaghetti). Drain and toss with a teaspoon or two of oil to prevent sticking.

In a large pot, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Add cleaned greens (if using chard or collards, be sure to strip off stems first), cover and simmer until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out any extra water. Transfer to cutting board and roughly chop. Sprinkle with apple cider vinegar and toss.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk all sauce ingredients together until smooth and warm. Add a bit of water or coconut milk to get desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste.

To assemble: Place a pile of hot soba noodles onto each plate. Top with tofu/chicken slices and drizzle with coconut peanut sauce. Place boiled greens on either side of the noodles. Serve hot!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rustic Apple Tart

I admit, my mind is still on that raclette dinner we had a few nights ago. Something about it is just so… intoxicating. But I’m here to talk about one of my favorite desserts, the rustic apple tart, which, incidentally, was served that very night.  

After a decadent dinner of cheese and potatoes, the last thing I wanted to dish up was a slice of chocolate sludge or caramel stickiness. Enter the apple tart. It’s not too heavy (it’s fruit based, for goodness sake) and autumnally warming. And it pleases even the most finicky palates, especially when topped with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.

I frequently use this recipe to make 6 individual tartlets but time didn’t permit, so one large rustic tart it was! The crust (adopted from America’s Test Kitchen) includes both cream cheese and butter, plus a bit of sugar and some fresh lemon juice. It’s tender, flaky and absolutely scrumptious. And don’t worry about making it perfectly shaped – irregular is just another word for rustic.   

Rustic Apple Tart 
This tart is a great finish to almost any meal.   

Tart Dough:
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into ½-inch chunks
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons ice water

2 large or 3 medium Granny Smith apples
2 large or 3 medium sweet variety apples (McIntosh, Fuji, etc)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white, lightly beaten

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt to combine. Add butter and cream cheese; pulse until mixture resembles small peas (at this point, it will not form a cohesive ball). Pour into a medium bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and 1 tablespoon ice water. Using a fork, lightly mix until liquid is evenly distributed and a small portion of dough holds together when squeezed in your hand, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if necessary. Note: mixture will still look a bit dry.

Turn dough onto a clean work surface and gather into a cohesive ball. Flatten into a 6-inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Transfer to refrigerator and let chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove dough from refrigerator (if it was refrigerated longer than 30 minutes, let it stand at room temperature until it’s malleable). On a lightly floured surface, roll dough with a floured rolling pin into a 15-inch circle. Transfer to a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making apple filling.

Peel, core and slice apples into ¼-inch slices. In a medium bowl, toss apples with lemon juice, ¼ cup sugar and cinnamon.

To Assemble, arrange apple slices in a circular, overlapping pattern around pastry, thick edges out, leaving a 3-inch border. Continue concentric, overlapping circles until you reach the middle. Fold dough border over the outside of filling, pleating it to fit snugly over the apples. When finished, gently press down to reinforce the shape.

Bake on the middle of oven for 30 minutes (tart will be pale golden at this point). Brush crust with beaten egg white and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar. You may also want to place tart pan onto a second baking sheet of the same size to ensure that bottom of crust doesn’t get too brown. Return to oven and bake until apples are tender and crust is a deep golden brown, about 30 more minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.