Smitten Kitchen cookbook adventures (5)

Over the holidays, since I wasn’t going to be cooking a lot of my traditional holiday stuff with family, I decided to make myself a few special meals. And what better book than Smitten Kitchen?

#6: Baked ranchero eggs with blistered jack cheese and lime crema

This is one of those recipes that when I saw it, I immediately thought “Where has this been all my life?” Turns out, I feel that way even more after making it, not only because it was fabulous but also because it has sub-parts and techniques that I can repurpose for an easier, more yummy life, and it’s very easy to scale down if you don’t want to make all dozen eggs of it. The ranchero sauce is super easy — just blend chopped onion, tomatoes, and jalapeƱo in the blender, then reduce (mixing in beans optionally, although I would never skip the beans myself :). The extras are a tiny bit fussy, but can be made ahead pretty easily and really add to the flavor and texture of the dish — Deb knows how to step up the garnishes to take a great dish to Awesome! The simmered/baked egg technique worked out just perfectly — the addition of blistering the cheese under the broiler, which also finishes the eggs, is excellent. It comes out bubbly and amazing.

I executed this one almost exactly as described except for halving the recipe because a) there’s only one of me, and b) I only have a 10-inch skillet), forgetting to halve the tortilla quantity, and using pepper jack instead of plain jack, because why on earth not? I ended up overcooking the eggs slightly because I wanted to be sure they got cooked enough, but only a bit — so I’d suggest not being tooo conservative with cooking the whites during the simmer, unless you prefer hard yolks too. They’ll get a good finish from the broil. I used about 3/4 of the tortilla strips I made, so you can definitely up the quantity a bit if you like tortilla. Finally, I’d suggest monitoring the wateriness of your sauce carefully. I did reduce mine just as the recipe describes, but I like it more dry, so it was still on the watery side for my taste.

After I made this I realized I still couldn’t eat more than two of the six eggs in one sitting, and they will get overcooked if you reheat (as Deb warns, though it’s hardly a great catastrophe!), but I realized that in the future I can actually make the sauce ahead, then make tiny individual servings in my mini-cast-iron using just two eggs, a sprinkling of cheese and some garnishes (made ahead, with the tortilla strips refreshed in the toaster oven). So definitely don’t hesitate to make this if you’re alone, although of course it would also be great shared with two to twelve friends!

#7: Big breakfast latkes

Finally, a recipe I have every ingredient for! These are traditional latkes, onion and potato with flour-egg binding. Easy peasy, but on the obscure side, you should have a cheesecloth or ‘lint-free dishcloth’ to squeeze the liquid out of the potatoes. I decided to live with some lint in my latkes. The squeezing is apparently important to get the potatoes dry enough to fry well, so don’t skip it. Use paper towel if you have to. I was worried I was getting it too dry because it was kind of hard to mix the potato and onion into the binding, but once everything was well mixed, it was perfect.

Fried cakey things are not one of my talents, and I’ve only gotten into eggs for cooking more recently, so it was really fun to just take a run at the traditional. They came out absolutely great and the one I ate was fabulous with a fried egg on top (one of Deb’s serving suggestions). I wish I hadn’t frozen all my applesauce yesterday, because the remaining ones would be great that way. The ratio of potato to onion and the amount of salt and pepper was perfect. Yum.

#8: Sugar-snap salad with sesame-miso dressing

I made this a while back, and heavily adapted it to fit what I had in the fridge, which was cabbage and radishes and spring onions. Yeah, no sugar snaps — it’s winter. But I was convinced this was the perfect use for the veggies I had. And it came out very well. The dressing is awesome-tasting. It was filling without being heavy. So I’d say you can definitely adapt this for different veggies, although having a sweetish one would help to balance the tang and salt of the dressing. It was a bit fussy to make with cutting everything up, but once the dressing is made and blended it’s worth it. Definitely nice to use a VitaMix or something you have one, to get really smooth dressing. And it makes the cutting less important.

Smitten Kitchen cookbook adventures (2)

Update on the gratin: I baked some delicata squash tonight and pureed a bit of it with some vegetable broth, to put under the leftover gratin. As I expected, it was delicious that way.

#3: Kale salad with dried cherries, walnuts, and goat cheese

My lackadaisical grocery shopping also interfered with the execution on this in that I entirely forgot the walnuts. Although I think they’d be a great addition, their absence did not in any way interfere with the awesomeness of this salad. The dressing is fabulous and really easy. I have no idea why I’ve never made homemade honey mustard dressing before, but it comes together in about 30 seconds (counting the shaking) and tastes fantastic. The crumbled goat cheese kind of melts into the dressing as you toss it, and the kale and radishes get very tender, although the radishes retain some crunch. If I hadn’t already had gratin and been on my way out of the house, I could easily have eaten half the salad on my own. It claims to serve 4, but if you like kale, I’d say two unless you’ve got something else just as good on the table.

Honestly, though, my second thought besides “That tastes great” was “Obviously this is a salad made for someone who’s not that wild about kale, despite being a raw kale salad” (which is what the intro note is all about, so it’s definitely true). The dressing covers up the taste of the kale almost completely, which bummed me out a little since I love kale. And the radishes didn’t come though all that well either. Mine are a tad old but alone they still taste fine. The dressing is just very strong. I also think I might chop the radishes next time instead of paper-thin slicing them. I’m not exactly sure why they’re so thin, but I just didn’t like the way they behaved. I also wanted shorter kale ribbons so I halved the leaves before chiffonading them (the technique is described, but not named, which is very accessible but a missed learning opportunity). I also replaced cherries with cranberries, which are cheaper.

Overall, it reminded me of VeganYumYum’s BLT salad, which is absolutely my favorite thing to do with raw kale, and whose dressing is much fattier, so it could be a nice simple replacement for that by hitting some of the same cravings. Tempeh crumbles — not bacon ones, but plainer ones — might be a good addition to make it a meal!

Imam bayildi

When Barbara posted her recipe for Imam bayildi, as an eggplant lover, I knew I had to make it.

It is as good as she says it is. It is by no means low-calorie, but it is vegan and the main bulk of it uses seasonally-available eggplant and tomatoes. It is also kind of time-consuming to make, requiring long cooking and then chilling. Definitely a special-occasion or once-every-so-often dish, but totally, totally worth it. The sauce is like red velvet, and the combination of the eggplant with the sweet caramelized onions and tangy sauce is nicely complementary. The pine nuts provide a pleasant crunch. Highly recommended!

Certified LAB cooking

As of today, I’m literally and officially certified Road I proficient by the League of American Bicyclists! I have a piece of paper that says so. I passed with flying colors.

I’m glad I took the class, because since then my road positioning has gotten more appropriately assertive, and I’m feeling more comfortable on the road because I know some evasive maneuvers.

On another subject: cooking. I haven’t been cooking a lot lately for various reasons (it’s been hot, I’ve been busy and away from the farmer’s market) but tonight I made something tasty and not very difficult. I’m going to do my best to recall exactly what I did, but as usual it’s not a very exact process. It tastes a lot like a chinese restaurant dish except light and fresh.

Spicy Eggplant in Brown Sauce
Vegetable oil
1 yellow onion
4 small Japanese eggplants
6 small or medium cloves of garlic
1-2 tbsp basil (6-10 leaves), chiffonaded
Soy sauce (~1/4 cup)
Mirin (~3 tbsp)
Water (~3 tbsp)
Corn starch (1/2-1 tbsp)
1/2 tbsp chili-garlic sauce (or to taste, but this is meant to be spicy*)

Chop the onion, and cut the eggplants into half-rounds about 1/4″ thick. Saute the onion in a tablespoon or two of oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browning and translucent. Add the eggplant and continue sauteing until the eggplant is mostly soft. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes until eggplant is done. Add a little soy sauce and/or mirin if necessary to deglaze the pan and keep everything from burning.

Add the basil and stir, then add the soy sauce, mirin, water, corn starch, and chili-garlic sauce. Stir, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 30 sec – 1 min or until the sauce thickens, then turn off the heat.

Serve with whatever you like with spicy Chinese-style dishes. I used rice noodles.

Yum.

*Not as in burns your mouth off, but as in, packing the heat. Whatever that means to you. Just don’t get between me and my chili garlic sauce.**

**It occurs to me that this should be spelled chile garlic sauce, because it’s made with chiles, not chili, but I always see it spelled chili garlic sauce (734K GHits to 465K GHits, and most of the ones for the latter are the same as the former), so, whatever.