From Hummus Origins…to Aquafaba!

Have you ever wondered who first loved chickpeas enough to blitz them into a creamy, spoonable purée? Because it has been beloved by so many, the origins of hummus are somewhat disputed. Greek and Arab cultures both lay claim to the delightful spread–so, where did hummus come from? And what on earth is aquafaba!?

Is Hummus Greek or Arabic?

If you’ve ever shopped for hummus at the grocery store, you’ve probably noticed packaging with Greek names or inspiration. Yet the word “hummus” actually means “chickpea” in Arabic. Are you confused yet?

Regardless of where hummus comes from, Greeks and Arabs historically traded many goods, sharing ideas, music, and food for a very long time. Both cultures also happen to enjoy stuffed grape leaves and baklava, no doubt reaching back to their intermingling during the Ottoman Empire. It’s no wonder they both claim to be the inventors of hummus! We may never know its true origins.

What we know for sure is that the earliest mention of hummus dates back to 13th century Egypt. Since the 1200s, however, hummus has come in many different forms. A quick Google search yields recipes for “Egyptian hummus,” “Greek hummus,” “Israeli hummus,” “Lebanese hummus“…the list goes on. The basics of these recipes are all fundamentally the same, however; blend cooked chickpeas with lemon juice, tahini, and seasonings together and enjoy!

The happy additions of tahini, lemon, and raw garlic make this simple dish enjoyable as an appetizer or first course–or as part of an epic charcuterie platter! So, what makes my recipe different? For this version of hummus, I include a no-cost secret ingredient: aquafaba!

What is Aquafaba?

Aquafaba is the water reserved from the process of cooking chickpeas. This water is rich in starches and, when whipped, makes a colloidal foam not dissimilar to egg whites. This is why aquafaba is popular among vegans and egg-intolerant individuals. The liquid from a can of chickpeas is so reliably fluffy when whipped, it can even be used to make vegan meringue cookies!

Other Ways to Use Aquafaba

Because of its fluffy characteristics when whipped, aquafaba affords bakers and home cooks many options in the kitchen. Here are some of the primary ways chefs use aquafaba:

With aquafaba, the only limit in the kitchen is your imagination! Use it in lieu of egg whites in sweet or savory recipes.

Not Everyone Loves Aquafaba…

While vegans and egg-intolerant people shared a lot of excitement since aquafaba hit the food scene in recent years, some nutritionists remain skeptical. Despite its fluffy characteristics, there’s more to “bean water” (“faba” and “aqua” in Latin) than meets the eye.

Some think consuming the liquid from canned beans can have a deleterious effect due to the BPAs in canned food. (However, the FDA maintains that trace amounts of BPAs do not have harmful effects.) However, you can make your own aquafaba using dried chickpeas if you are concerned about the BPAs in canned food.

Others think the starchy water from the beans causes undue gastrointestinal distress because of its oligosaccharide content. This can cause gas and bloating in folks with a sensitive digestive system, and some claim it can even lead to leaky gut syndrome.

However, due to aquafaba’s recent arrival in the culinary world, there’s not much research to dispute or confirm any potential health benefits (from avoiding eggs) or harmful effects (from BPAs and starches). Cultures have long consumed stews containing the cooking liquid from pre-soaked dried chickpeas, so as is usually the case with intuitive eating, listen to your gut here (literally)! Everything in moderation, right?

Why I Use Aquafaba in This Recipe

The addition of some of the starchy water whips together with the chickpeas to create a truly fluffy, creamy texture without adding excess oil. I personally don’t eat a lot of canned food, am not pregnant, and am not overly concerned about–erm–passing wind. I’m pretty sure my dog doesn’t love me any less if I fart…so I’ll take the cut in unnecessary fat and the boost in texture, please! 🙂

Basic Hummus Recipe

Here is the basic skeleton of the recipe for hummus, which you can “dress up” any way you like. I doctored mine with extra raw garlic for a little punch.

ingredients for aquafaba hummus

I crushed the two heads of garlic and left them to soak in the lemon juice for around 15 minutes. The lemon juice takes some of the pungent bite and tempers garlic’s “rougher” edges. For maximum “garlic taming,” mince or press the garlic into the lemon juice.

Blitz everything in a food processor, gradually adding aquafaba until the hummus is of the desired thickness. Garnish with chopped toasted nuts, pomegranite seeds, sesame seeds, fresh herbs…I topped mine with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sumac.

finished aquafaba hummus
What a good day to treat yourself!

Serve with your desired dip-able foods! Keeps well covered in the fridge up to 1 week.

Basic Oil-Free Hummus (With Aquafaba!)

The addition of aquafaba eliminates the need to use olive oil as a binder and makes for a fluffy, addicting dip!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course Appetizer
Cuisine greek, middle eastern, traditional, vegan
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • food processor or blender

Ingredients
  

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained, with liquid reserved
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • aquafaba from chickpeas, about 3/4 cup
  • juice from 1 large lemon, about 1/4 cup
  • salt, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Juice the lemon. Peel and chop garlic, then add to the lemon juice to macerate, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, drain chickpeas using a fine strainer over a bowl or large measuring cup. You should have about 3/4 cup of aquafaba. Add chickpeas to a food processor or blender along with tahini, a pinch of salt, and the lemon juice with garlic. Pulverize in pulses, gradually adding aquafaba until the hummus is of a desirable consistency.
  • Taste, and season for salt. Garnish with chopped toasted nuts, pomegranate seeds, sumac, olive oil, sesame seeds, pine nuts, and/or fresh herbs and serve. Keeps well in the fridge about 1 week.
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For other ideas on how to use chickpeas, check out this my recipe for simple chickpea ricotta pasta, or this recipe for butternut squash and chickpea tahini salad!

Nik Sharma’s Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

A few days ago I woke up with a splitting headache and an achy kind of nausea. I say “woke up” loosely, because I laid in bed for several hours just trying to figure out what’s what. Even though it is July in the South, and plenty hot, and plenty humid, I knew what I needed. The answer? Hot, nourishing soup with plenty of collard greens, which happen to be the state vegetable of South Carolina.

You may be thinking, “You crazy woman. It’s 1000 degrees outside where you live and 900% humidity. A walk halfway ’round the block is enough to get you sweating. Why are you making hot soup?”

And reader, I must say: valid point…

However, the body needs what the body needs, and sometimes silver-green bunches of bitter collards and turmeric-coated chickpeas can work some of the profoundest miracles.

I leafed my way through the picture-rich Flavor Equation gluttonously, lingering over pages that contained ingredients I’d never heard of. If you need some magic injected into your culinary life, consider this beautiful book by Nik Sharma. He breaks down some of the science of what makes ingredients big players in the kitchen and throws in some really interesting recipes for adventurous eaters intent on culinary play.

I saw the picture of this chili-spiced soup and just knew it would cure me.

What’s not to love about stewed greens in bright tomato and tamarind, with spiced chili, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper seasoning two kinds of legumes?

I ate not one, but two bowls of this for early dinner and was back on track by 8.

Health Benefits of Collard Greens

These broad, leafy greens have more to offer than meets the eye. Here are some of the top nutritional benefits to eating collard greens regularly:

  1. Liver Detox: Collard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which cleanse cells of toxins and gradually purify the body over time.
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: Rich in vitamins A, C, K, and B-6 as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium, collard greens offer your body the building blocks to do everything from producing hemoglobin in your red blood cells, to boosting the immune system, to improving skin health.
  3. Fiber: High in both water content and fiber, collard greens are very beneficial to your gut in “keeping regular.” Fiber not only cleans out your lower intestine but also slows down your liver’s processing of sugars, lowering the chance that sugar will be converted to fat. Fiber also lowers cholesterol levels and may even have associations with bolstering mental health.

In South Carolina, it’s standard to purchase collard greens in giant bunches, too large to fit in the average grocery bag. Most folks cut the tough rib out of the center of the leaf, chop the greens into forkable chunks and stew them in a deliciously seasoned liquid. Here is a recipe for classic Southern Collard Greens from Grandbaby Cakes.

The Recipe

Collards aren’t all this dish has to offer. From the healing punch of warming spices to the healthy protein contributed by the chickpeas and lentils, this soup will have you going back for another bowl.

First, I prepped all of the ingredients. I thawed my homemade stock…diced the onion…soaked the red lentils…peeled and chopped the ginger and garlic…washed and cut the collards….etc. It was my day off and I had all day to make magical soup, as far as I was concerned. A mini “vacation,” if you will.

(If you are looking for other ways to use up your gorgeous red lentils, check out this recipe for dal from one of my previous posts!)

Once the ingredients were prepped, it became a matter of bringing out the best in all of them. Sauteeing the onions until translucent, just cooking through the ginger and garlic, caramelizing the tomato paste and blooming the spices, stewing the tomato and collards…then adding the beans and stock to simmer until everything married together.

Serve yourself a bowl, add a healthy amount of fresh herbs on top, and you’ve got yourself a wellness boost:

Bet you can’t eat just one bowl.

Nik Sharma's Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

Nik Sharma
This collard-packed soup is doubled down on legume-y goodness with both red lentils and chickpeas. With warming spices and brightness from fresh tomato and tamarind, this vegetable stew will leave you both refreshed and comforted!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course dinner, Main Course, vegan, Vegetarian
Cuisine Comfort Food, Intuitive
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 7 oz collard greens, rinsed, midribs removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock, or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs tamarind paste
  • salt, to taste
  • chopped parsley, to taste
  • chopped cilantro, to taste

Instructions
 

  • First, rinse your lentils in a fine mesh colander and pick out any impurities. Cover lentils in a bowl with 1 cup of water and let soak for 30 minutes.
  • While the lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato and set aside. Remove the midribs from the rinsed collards and roughly chop.
  • Heat oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add cinnamon stick, pepper, chili, and turmeric followed by the tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Drop in the diced tomato and collard greens and stir until the leaves are bright green and begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Drain the soaked lentils and add to the pot along with chickpeas and stock.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still retain their shape. Season to taste with salt.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve immediately.
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Gooey Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

With the passing of Memorial Day came a swift–if not entirely unpredictable–craving for sugar. Coupled with the knowledge that I had four or five lemons which were on the precipice of going bad, I knew there could only be one delightful conclusion: lemon dessert.

While most of us are familiar with lemon bars and lemon meringue pie, perhaps not all of us have had the great pleasure of sinking our teeth into these beauties. Gooey, sticky, lemony, and slightly tart, these bars make an excellent BBQ dessert. While they are fun to share, I ate nearly an entire pan to myself over the course of five days before finally demanding that my boyfriend take them away to share.

Y’know, for science. So for the record, they keep surprisingly well in the fridge.

While one could hypothetically eat these pie bars with ones’ hands (and I’ve definitely stuffed a bite-sized morsel into my mouth while running out the door on my way to work) they are an INCREDIBLY sticky mess and are best eaten with a plate and a fork. This way, you know how to prepare for that potluck dessert you were puzzling over. (Gatherings are beginning to happen again, thank everything good.)

Another bonus of finding this winner of a recipe? Trying my hand at another kind of meringue. This recipe calls for Swiss meringue in order to add a silky smooth finish to your lemon pie bars.

Different Kinds of Meringue

There are three basic kinds of meringue. Chances are, you’ve been exposed to them at some point in your life–maybe even eaten and enjoyed them–without knowing just what they are. From meringue cookies to pie toppings to Baked Alaska, mastering meringue is a pivotal step for any baker or home cook.

French Meringue

French meringue is created by whipping egg whites until soft peaks form, then gradually adding sugar while beating until firm peaks appear. For this process, it is best to use fine sugar or confectioner’s sugar for easier absorption and maximum dissolvability. This particular kind of meringue is often folded into desserts like Julia Child’s chocolate mousse in order to create a fluffy, airy quality.

Italian Meringue

While this touted as the most stable of the three meringues, it can also be the trickiest to get right. It is undoubtedly the least forgiving of the meringues, but the results are versatile and have been used in everything from macarons to buttercream. First, egg whites are beaten until soft peaks form. Then, sugar syrup (simple syrup) is heated to 236°F-240°F. Gradually, the syrup is added to beaten egg whites as you continue to whisk. When all the sugar is incorporated, you will have glossy, firm peaks that will set quickly unless incorporated into another ingredient.

Swiss Meringue

For this meringue, sugar and egg whites are whisked together over a simmering pot of water until they are very warm to the touch. The heated mixture is then beaten until smooth, firm, glossy peaks form. Adding the sugar to the egg whites in this way makes for a less voluminous result, but improves the overall texture, especially when compared to French meringue. (Hint: THIS is the meringue used for lemon meringue pie!)

Ways to Use Meringue

One of the great qualities of meringue is that it is essentially sticky, edible play-dough; once it’s met with time and/or heat, it holds its shape forever. Torch your meringue when you want it to set, and you’ve made an edible creation. Because of this aspect of meringues, they make a fun addition to nearly any dessert. Improvise, and have fun!

Okay, Now You’re Ready To Play With Meringue

Roll up your sleeves, gather your ingredients, and get to work!

We start with the graham cracker crust. Who doesn’t love a graham cracker crust?

You’ll need two sleeves, butter, sugar, and salt for this sweet step. A food processor makes the procedure more enjoyable, unless you love smashing things in zip top bags until they are a fine powder. Sometimes this can be cathartic?

Once par baked, it’s time to make the lemon filling. I love this lemon filling because juice, flesh, and rind are all blended together, creating a complex and robust lemon flavor. Yum!

Once blitzed together, it gets baked. It WILL look bizarre and even unevenly browned. But trust me (and the recipe!), once you slather some of that sweet, sweet Swiss meringue on top, nobody will bat an eye.

 

That’s the beauty of Swiss meringue: everything goes in one bowl (ideally the bowl of a stand mixer)!

Chill that sucker! While it’s cooling, whip up your Swiss meringue.

That’s the beauty of Swiss meringue: everything goes in one bowl (ideally the bowl of a stand mixer)! Put it over heat until it is very warm, whisking throughout.

It won’t look very “meringue-y” at first (I confess I had a brief moment where I wondered if I was doing it right) but once you put the warm mixture under a whisk, magical things happen. Spread the finished meringue over your cooled lemon bars and torch.

Before!

After! Serve immediately. If you can’t eat them all in one sitting, don’t worry. They are still just as delicious five days later, and I have to say they were even better on day two.

Gooey Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

With a buttery graham cracker crust, blitzed sugar and whole lemon filling and a sweet Swiss meringue topping, this crowd-pleasing dessert makes an excellent addition to any gathering. Keeps up to five days in the fridge. This recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Cooling Time 2 hrs
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, traditional

Equipment

  • Blow torch or oven broiler
  • Stand mixer or electric hand beater

Ingredients
  

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 2 sleeves graham crackers, original
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 pinches fine salt
  • 10 Tbs cold butter, cut into cubes

Whole Lemon Filling

  • 2 whole lemons, scrubbed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 8 egg yolks, with whites reserved
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Swiss Meringue Topping

  • 8 egg whites
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

Instructions
 

Crust

  • Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13 pan with two pieces of parchment paper large enough to overhang on the sides of the pan. (This is to remove the lemon bars after they've cooled.)
  • Place graham crackers, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until fine crumbs form. Add the butter and pulse until incorporated. The mixture should look and feel like wet sand. Transfer to the parchment papered baking pan and press the crumbs down into it in an even layer, taking care to send crumbs all the way to the corners. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just golden. Allow to cool.

Filling

  • Trim the ends off of your lemons and slice two lengthwise. Cut into thin half moons (about 1/8th of an inch thick) and remove the seeds from the slices. Wipe out the food processor and place lemon slices, juice of one lemon, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and butter and blend until smooth. (Alternatively a blender works well for this.) Pour the mixture over the par baked crust and return to the oven, baking for 30 minutes more. (Don't worry of the graham crust is still warm when you pour the lemon filling into it.)
  • Pull the lemon bars from the oven after 30 minutes and allow to cool completely in the fridge at least 2 hours or freezer at least 1 hour. Don't worry if the top looks unevenly browned or unsightly as it's going to get covered with meringue swirls!

Meringue Topping

  • Once the bars have cooled completely, pull from the fridge. Using the parchment paper handles, pull the bars in one mass from the baking pan and discard the paper. Return the bars to the baking pan.
  • Add egg whites, vanilla, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (or other heat safe bowl, if using electric hand mixer) and place over a pot of simmering water (even 2 inches of water in the bottom of the pot is enough. Whisk continuously until the mixture is homogenous and very warm to the touch.
  • Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and beat until firm, glossy peaks form, 2-3 minutes. Plop the meringue over the cooled lemon bars and swirl using an offset spatula until desired effect is achieved.
  • Using a torch or your oven's broiler, heat meringue until golden and toasted, around 1 minute. Keep a close eye on the meringue so it does not burn.
  • Serve immediately. Keeps well up to five days in the fridge.
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Miso-Braised Short Rib Au Jus (From @ladyandpups)

 

When was the last time you felt truly gluttonous, where eating felt like pure indulgence, every mouthful rich and decadent?

Maybe in between salads and roasted root vegetable dinners, you like to let your inner carnivore out of her cave…you might invite her to tear through supple slabs of fatty meat, grease lining her lips and juices rolling down her chin…

Enter the au jus sandwich.

This brilliant recipe by Mandy of @ladyandpups (check out her Instagram here!) pairs Japanese flavors for an original take on this luscious, mouth-watering sando. Tender chunks of short rib perched in cheesy, crusty toasted bread dive into salty umami broth and make for a very gratifying dinner indeed. I ate this two days in a row and would have gone for a third, had there been any more to eat! Do heed Mandy’s advice and let the cooked short ribs hang out in their juices overnight before you plan to assemble your sandwich–the depth and complexity of flavor will be worth it!

What Does “Au Jus” Mean?

“Au Jus” is derived from French, literally translating to “with the gravy” and is thought to date back to around 1915. Today, it is used to describe a dish that is served with the “natural juices” of cooked meat.

A Brief History of the Au Jus Sandwich

The Au Jus (or French Dip, as it’s often called in America) has its roots in early 1900s Los Angeles. According to legend, a restaurant owner was making a sandwich for a local cop when he accidentally dropped the finished product in a pan of beef broth. The accommodating officer ate the sandwich anyway and enjoyed it so much, he invited friends the next day to eat this new invention. Two different L.A. restaurants claim to have started this culinary delight: Philippe The Original and Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet, which have both been in operation since 1908. Regardless of the true origins, it did not take long for this delicious creation to reach international familiarity.

This Recipe Calls For A Lot of Miso…Where Should I Buy It?

It’s true: for this recipe, you need a whopping half cup of miso paste (no need to add extra salt for seasoning)! If supporting independent businesses is important to you, consider buying from South River Miso Company (their chickpea miso is an excellent idea, if slightly tangential to this recipe, which calls for regular soy). You can also always find miso at your local Asian market, and it usually comes in relatively large containers.

Other Ways To Use Miso

Miso is a versatile ingredient that can be used in sweet and savory contexts. It boosts saltiness and umami flavors, and generally has a slight nuttiness that adds depth to whatever you cook. Here are some ideas for using up your leftover miso:

The Recipe

Brown the meat in neutral oil on all sides. Assemble the ingredients and prepare to braise. The best part of this recipe? Once everything’s in the pot, all there is to do is wait while a delectable odor fills the air…

I like Kettle & Fire brand beef broth, but other low-sodium beef broth works well too.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a hot, heavy-bottomed pot, add the meat and cover with liquid.

Make sure the beef is completely covered with liquid. If you don’t have enough beef broth to do this, a little water or chicken stock will do in a pinch!

Cover and braise for 3-3 1/2 hours at a relatively low temperature. Toast some crusty bread with a sharp cheese, assemble your sandwich, and ladle some of the luscious broth into a dip-able bowl.

Yeah…not at all a bad way to end the day…

Does it seem like hyperbole when I say I literally looked forward to eating this sandwich for weeks before it finally came to fruition? There’s something about planning meals ahead of time that is so rewarding.

This recipe makes for excellent leftovers that only taste better the longer they hang out in your fridge (you should probably throw it away if you can manage to keep it longer than 5 days or so, however…mine didn’t last nearly that long). Wow a friend or lover with this recipe! It makes for an excellent proclamation of love.

Miso-Braised Short Rib Au Jus

Adapted from a recipe by Mandy of @ladyandpups, this take on a French Dip sandwich combines classic Japanese flavors for a mouth-watering, juicy, crispy, cheesy meal.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 3 hrs 45 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 5 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, French, Japanese
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • oven-safe heavy-bottom dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 3 lbs English short ribs
  • 3 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 inches ginger, cut into strips
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp curry powder
  • 6 cups beef broth, plus more if needed to cover meat
  • 1/2 cup miso paste, preferably yellow or white
  • 1/3 cup mirin
  • 4 6 inch pieces of baguette, cut down the middle
  • 6 Tbs butter, room temperature
  • 1 lb provolone cheese, cut into slices
  • 1/4 cup shallot, minced

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • Heat the oil over medium-high in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe dutch oven. Add the short ribs fat side down first and cook, rotating until all sides are brown, about 4 minutes each side. If cooking in batches, drain browned short ribs on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Lower heat to medium. Return all meat to the pot. Add the soy sauce and cook, stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated. (You want the soy sauce to caramelize, but not burn.) Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and spices and cook for another 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste has caramelized slightly. Add beef broth, miso, and mirin and stir. If needed, add water until the meat is completely submerged.
  • Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone tender.
  • Using tongs, gently remove the short ribs from the liquid and place in a medium bowl. Strain the cooking liquid into a large bowl using a fine mesh sieve. Discard the spent ginger, onion, et cetera, and return the liquid to the pot, followed by the beef. Clear space in the fridge and let the mixture cool, ideally overnight.
  • When ready to eat, remove the dutch oven from the fridge. Skim off some of the solidified fat from the pot and discard. Over medium heat with the lid slightly ajar, reheat the short ribs until at a bare simmer.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Mince the shallot and set aside. Cut the bread into 6 inch lengths and butter. Place on a sheet tray and toast for several minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside.
  • Using tongs, pull short ribs from the au jus and place in a large bowl. Using kitchen shears, snip the meat into one inch chunks. Place cheese on one half of all four of the sandwich toasts and place back in the oven until bubbling.
  • Ladle the remaining au jus into four bowls and distribute chopped shallots into all four. Pile snipped short ribs and their juices between each set of sandwich toasts. Cut in half if desired, and serve immediately. If there is any left over, meat will keep well up to 4 days in the fridge.
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Red Lentil and Yam Dal

If you love Indian food but often feel daunted by the idea of making it yourself, dal (sometimes spelled “daal” or “dahl”) is a great entry point. With simple ingredients and minimal effort, dal requires basic knife skills and a little patience. To boot, this recipe also happens to be vegan; but while it is free of animal products, it is no way lacking in flavor. When I first sampled a bite to make sure the lentils were cooked through, I ended up standing for several minutes over the stove, eating spoonful after spoonful and groaning over just how delicious this dish actually is.

What’s more, it’s arguably even better the day after you make it, after the ingredients have had more time to meld in the fridge. I love making a big pot of dal and nursing it over the course of the week; you can doctor it several ways to add some variety, and eat it for literally any meal. (I had it for breakfast the morning after I made it!) Add some fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, coconut cream, crispy fried onion slivers, or some raita or yogurt. Eat it with naan, roti, on toast, or with brown or basmati rice. This dish is complex and balanced enough to stand up to a little tweaking, but really is remarkably good straight out of the pan.

What Is Dal?

Usually including onions and/or tomatoes and a host of spices, dal is essentially savory lentil porridge.

The word “dal” comes from the similarly named Sanskrit root verb, meaning “to split,” and is commonly used to refer to lentils of all colors and sizes. (In this case, however, we are talking specifically about the dish.) Made from either lentils, peas, or beans which do not require soaking (also called “pulses”), dal comes in three primary forms: made from unhulled pulses, split pulses, or hulled and split. When a pulse is hulled, its outer shell is removed, thereby making it easier to digest; in turn, however, it looses some of its inherent nutritional value in the process, such as dietary fiber.

According to Wikipedia, India is the leading producer and consumer of pulses in the world, no doubt why lentils and other legumes contribute so much to Indian cuisine. Most Indian households eat lentils in some form at least once throughout the day (either sweet or savory), no matter where they fall on the financial or class spectrum. In this way, pulses are a great equalizer in Indian cuisine.

One popular way of finishing a bowl of dal is to pour “chaunk” over the top of the bowl. Chaunk is generally whole spices fried in a neutral tasting oil, such as fenugreek, red pepper seeds, or cumin or mustard seeds. However, chaunk varies regionally and comes in a wide variety of forms.

India’s Legume History

Tracing back well before the Christian era, a baked, sweetened lentil paste dessert known as “mande” or “mandaka” reaches back to the Buddhist era. Two legumes which show up in India’s historical texts are chickpeas and horse gram, both of which are still eaten in India to this day.

In texts dating back to 1130 AD, pulses are mentioned as the main ingredient in common dishes, with dals made from cereal grains also present. Pulses can be cooked with or without soaking, but can also be ground into a flour and used to make traditional Indian breads such as papadum, or moong dal paratha.

Lentils are also considered the first meal of someone in mourning, because they are round and sorrow (like a wheel) is thought to come around and touch everyone in their turn. Additionally, the lentils’ smooth shape is thought to symbolize the silence indicative of the mourning period in Indian culture.

It is said in lore that during King Avadh’s reign, a cook was hired exclusively to cook lentils. He took the job on the condition that the king eat the lentils while they were good and hot, never allowing them to grow cold. This worked for a while, until the king was unable to come as planned for dinner one day.

In frustration, the cook threw the whole dish away and walked out, saying “yeh mooh aur masoor ki daal” or “you are not worth this lentil!”

Health Benefits of Dal

Aside from being a low fat, low cholesterol dish due to being pulse-centric rather than meat-centric, dal also contains hearty doses of ground spices like cumin, coriander, and ginger. Thought to contain healing properties in India’s Ayurvedic medicine tradition, dal nourishes on a cellular level and promotes overall wellness in several ways.

Lentils are high in

  • B vitamins
  • zinc
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • folate
  • manganese
  • phosphorus
  • phytochemicals, which prevent diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • fiber
  • iron
  • and are 25% protein

They have been linked to heart health, blood sugar management, lower blood pressure, and general fitness, as they increase satiety and discourage overeating.

Fresh cilantro has been linked to reduced symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, reduced anxiety, and blood sugar management.

In this recipe, ground cumin, coriander, ginger, and turmeric are all used; each of these spices is thought to host a litany of health properties, essentially adding up to reduced inflammation, blood sugar management, improved heart health, weight loss facilitation, and improved brain health and digestion.

(If you are curious about learning more about yam nutrition facts for this dal, please refer to my previous blog post for Sweet Baked Yam With Tahini, Cilantro, and Pepitas.)

It’s hard to have a bad day eating such colorful food…perhaps this is why golden turmeric is linked with depression relief.

Onions sauté in a little oil followed by yams, ginger, garlic, and red pepper. In go the lentils, spices, salt, tomatoes, and some water…

Everything simmers for about 35 minutes. Stir in some coconut cream for some richness and just try not to immediately scoop yourself a bowl! And don’t worry–dal freezes beautifully!

Red Lentil and Yam Dal

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's NYT recipe.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Course healthy, Main Course, Side Dish, Vegetarian
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 3 Tbs neutral flavored oil, such as canola
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 cups sweet potato, finely diced
  • 1 inch peeled ginger, finely minced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp aleppo chili flakes
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream
  • cilantro, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • In a large, heavy-bottomed dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sautuntil translucent, about 5 minutes. Add yam and sautee for another 5 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to low and add ginger, garlic, and pepper flakes, and stir. Add lentils and ground spices to the pot, and stir until fully incorporated. Add tomatoes and 3 1/2 cups water, and raise heat to high until the mixture boils.
  • Once boiling, reduce heat until mixture is at a rapid simmer and cook about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until lentils are fully cooked and the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste with salt.
  • Remove from heat once liquid is absorbed and lentils are cooked, add coconut cream and stir. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
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Chicken and Spinach in Cream Sauce

I will never forget the first time I had mushrooms and cream sauce: the tang of white wine tempered the silken nature of the heavy cream, creating a luxurious blanket for the simmering creminis. It’s hard to argue with the allure of heavy cream, even when we are trying to be eco- or animal-conscious.

I don’t buy it often, and my fridge almost always has milk alternatives in it such as oat or almond–but every now and then, ya just want something so creamy it’s basically liquid butter.

This flavorful sauce beautifully coats tender poached chicken breasts and cooks fresh spinach in a matter of minutes. Grounded in earthy greens and brightened by white wine and a splash of lemon juice, this truly is a decadent, simple dish that makes enjoying dinner a no-brainer. Plus, it comes together in under an hour and utilizes only one skillet, which makes clean up a breeze.

While I would be hard pressed to label this a “healthy” dish, there are certain benefits to eating lean protein like chicken breasts (low cholesterol, high protein) and spinach.

Health Benefits of Spinach

Aside from containing vital nutrients like calcium, potassium and magnesium, spinach is also high in vitamin A and folate.

Vitamin A has been linked to eyesight, skin, and hair health, as well as reduced risk of certain cancers like cervical, lung, and bladder cancers.

Vitamin A also helps to fight acne and is an essential micronutrient necessary in collagen production, responsible for keeping us looking young and healthy, as well as boosting bone health and nutrient absorption.

Folate plays a key role in red blood cell formation and general cell health and function.

Isn’t it fun to know that, on a cellular level, our foods are working to keep the machinations of our amazing bodies in order?

What’s even more fun is knowing that folate is a nutrient that requires fat in order to be absorbed by the body, thus making this rich cream sauce the perfect vehicle for your leafy greens. How’s that for a justification? 😉

Simple ingredients means minimal effort, but it also often means crystal-clear flavor that is easier to balance.

What do I mean by “balance?”

Fat vs. acid is a great place to start. In this dish, the cream is obviously the major contributor in the “fat” column, while white wine plays heavily into the “acid.” The reason these two ingredients come together in this straightforward sauce is the fact that they play off each other nicely, making for a surprisingly complex, savory relationship. Add some garlic for pungency and shallot for character and you’ve got an excellent backdrop for whatever you like, whether that be chicken, fish, mushrooms, or vegetables.

Part of what keeps the chicken in this recipe so moist is the fact that it poaches after it sears. This has the double benefit of cooking off some of the alcohol in the white wine and further thickening the sauce.

Add some parsley for color and a squeeze of lemon for a burst of freshness. What this dish lacks in color it makes up for in flavor. Serve with rice or over a bed of fresh spinach, and enjoy!

Chicken and Spinach in Cream Sauce

This simple dish comes together in minutes and makes and excellent date-night or special week-end meal!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, French, Intuitive, traditional
Servings 2 people

Equipment

  • cast iron pan or heavy bottomed skillet

Ingredients
  

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • salt, for seasoning
  • freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 small shallots or one large
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, packed
  • fresh parsley, to taste
  • fresh lemon wedges, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Season chicken breasts to taste with salt and pepper. Coat (dredge) in flour and set aside.
  • Grate shallot(s) and press garlic and set aside.
  • Heat oil over medium-high in a cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet. Sear chicken until golden brown on both sides, about 8 minutes each turn. The chicken should read 165°F on an instant read thermometer. If using high-quality, organic chicken, feel free to heat chicken to the "chef's temperature" of 155°F, if you are comfortable. Keep in mind the chicken will continue to poach in the white wine in the following steps.
  • Reduce heat to medium and add butter, garlic, and shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Add wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and simmer about 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Flip the chicken breasts after 5 minutes, then remove using tongs. Place on a cutting board and cover with tin foil, allowing the meat to rest for several minutes while you finish the sauce.
  • Once the wine mixture has reduced significantly, add the cream and cook until the sauce can coat the back of a spoon, between 5 and 10 minutes. Once the sauce is complete, turn off the heat and add fresh spinach, stirring until incorporated and fully cooked, about 1 minute.
  • Cut chicken against the grain into 1/2" strips. Plate with spinach and cream sauce, ideally over a bed of rice. Serve hot with fresh parsley and lemon wedges.
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Braised Short Ribs (Based on Alison Roman’s Recipe)

Spring has sprung! (Yay, daffodils! Yay, tulips! Yay, every other form of emerging life!!) For some people, this means lamb or rabbit; for others, it means welcoming in the coming year’s harvest via sprouts, spring vegetables, kale, and the like. Whether you eat meat or not, spring is an undeniably exciting time of year–the world around you begins to stir and life resumes its cycle of defying death in beautiful and surprising ways.

Speaking of beautiful and death-defying, there is truly nothing like sinking your teeth into a skillfully-prepared piece of meat. Flavorful, tender, juicy and decadent, meat is a luxury consumed quite casually in modern American culture. If I were to wet my finger and stick it to the air, however, I might be inclined to say this attitude is changing…but I think there will always be something primal in us that is hardwired towards calorie-rich foods, meat being no exception to this rule. Wherever you choose to guide your diet, from vegan to carnivorous paleo, we must nod to our ancient brain development and growth as being linked, at first, to hunting and cooking. (Edit: This is still debated in the scientific community; here is an example of a counterpoint which posits that bone marrow and fatty brain tissue, not flesh, were the key players in brain development.)

Today, of course, there’s no strict need to kill for calories; if you look for it, you can find frozen cauliflower crust pizza at the grocery store. We’ve come a long way since crafting stone tools and crudely practicing butchery as early as 3.4 million years ago. But who knows, maybe there were those among us who opted instead to find essential amino acids in ways other than animal-based proteins…

For me, meat is an indulgence, so I tend to choose when and how I eat it deliberately. While shouldering the climate crisis responsibility (specifically as it relates to deforestation, water pollution, and methane gas emissions, all associated with overconsumption of meat) is a heavy cross to bear, chances are we could all afford to eat a little less, and a little more “cleanly.” Soap box aside, these short ribs are incredibly simple, elegant, and decadent–and very rich and filling. Do your part and support a local butcher, if you can; splurging here on high quality meat is really worth it. Make this a special occasion meal, and you will not be disappointed.

What Are Short Ribs?

Short ribs are a cut of meat typically taken from the chuck or brisket areas of a cow and are formed from the shortest portion of the rib cage where the bones are not quite long enough to be considered “ribs.”

Short ribs are typically cut into two ways: either in individual pieces with meat around the bone (English style) or in one long piece of meat holding three cross sections of rib together (“plate” style).

On the left is plate style short ribs, and on the right is English style. (from Google images)

What’s Great About Short Ribs?

Short ribs have a naturally high fat content and therefore, if cooked properly, they can be incredibly flavorful and tender. They are also very rich and filling, so less meat “goes further” when it comes time to eat.

Where Can I Purchase Short Ribs?

This is a great excuse to head to your local butcher and strike up a conversation! Supporting local always feels good. If this option is not accessible to you, I recommend checking out delivery services such as Moink Box or Porter Road.

Ok, I’m Hungry…Show Me The Recipe!

First, gather your ingredients.

For this recipe, I used Kettle & Fire brand bone broth–and no, they are not paying me to say this. I find it is readily available in most grocery stores and is a good quality for the price. Of course, you can always substitute regular stock or broth, but low-sodium is good here, unless you factor that in as you season the dish.

What I love about this recipe is how straightforward it is. Brown the seasoned meat, flavor the remaining oil with two heads of garlic, then add your chopped vegetables and tomato paste (also known as mirepoix).

Garlic flavored rendered fat and canola oil coats the vegetables as they removed all the crispy browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add your liquids and thyme…

Then in go the browned short ribs so that the meat is submerged (bone up).

Then cover and bake at a low temperature for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Serve with rice or potatoes, and don’t forget to enjoy it with your sauce, fresh herbs, and Alison Roman’s recommended lemon zest!

…did I mention the knife is optional? And don’t miss out on all that flavorful fat–after all it is good for your brain 🙂

Braised Short Ribs (Adapted from Alison Roman)

Deeply flavorful, these garlicky short ribs fall off the bone after 4 hours of braising.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 30 mins
Course dinner, Main Course, meat
Cuisine American, traditional
Servings 3 people

Equipment

  • 6.2 liter heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 lbs short ribs, at least 2 per person but no more than 5 lbs
  • diamond kosher salt, for seasoning
  • finely ground pepper, for seasoning
  • 2 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise through the bulbs
  • 1 1/2 cups celery, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3/4 bottle dry red wine
  • 2 cups beef broth, preferably bone broth, or one package Kettle & Fire bone broth
  • 4 grams fresh thyme, tied in a small bundle if you have the baker's twine
  • chopped parsley, for serving
  • chopped chives, for serving
  • freshly grated lemon zest, for serving

Instructions
 

  • Generously season dry ribs on all sides with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside 15-30 minutes before browning to allow the meat to come to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 275°F.
  • Chop celery, carrots, and onion into large chunks and set aside. Uncork wine.
  • Heat canola oil over medium-high flame in a heavy bottomed dutch oven. Working in batches if necessary, brown the meat on all sides until golden, about 10 minutes. Place on a wide plate, then pour rendered fat into a liquid measuring cup. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the fat back into the dutch oven, then add the chopped vegetables. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the browned bits from the bottom of the pan have been lifted from the moisture from the vegetables.
  • Add tomato paste and stir. Cook about 3 minutes, or until the paste has begun to caramelize, become fragrant, and turned a rusty color.
  • Add wine to the pot, slowly at first so you can scrape up any remaining brown bits. Add the remainder and simmer about 2 minutes. Add the broth and thyme and stir. Add browned ribs, meat side down, into the liquid and bring everything to a simmer. Cover with a lid and bake in the oven 3 1/2 to 4 hours. The short ribs should be falling off the bone and very tender.
  • Gingerly remove short ribs from the dutch oven using tongs. Place on a serving platter and cover with tin foil, allowing them to rest about 10-15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, skim as much fat as possible from the liquid in the dutch oven. Drain over a bowl using a fine mesh seive and discard the vegetables and garlic. Return the liquid to the dutch oven and cook over medium heat, until the mixture has reduced noticeably, about 10 minutes.
  • As the sauce is reducing, chop parsley and chives and zest the lemon. Uncover short ribs and garnish with herbs and zest, and plenty of sauce. Enjoy with rice or potatoes, and the last 1/4 bottle of wine.
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Pad Thai For Dummies

If you’re anything like me, Thai food is a friendly constant in your takeout rotation. While I am a sucker for anything curry, or chicken with cashews, or tom kha gai soup (but that’s another blog post), I invariably end up coming back to pad thai. When you crave it, nothing else will do, perhaps due to its tangy umami blast of flavor and the supreme satisfaction that comes with eating a bowl full of noodles; maybe you added the bean sprouts and maybe, this is the moment where you gloriously abandon vegetation of any kind and head straight for the scrumptious rice noodles and protein.

This pad thai recipe attempts to come as close to the “authentic” flavor one might find at a Thai restaurant as possible.

The only ingredient I had to go out of my way to purchase was tamarind purée, which one can certainly find at a local Asian Market.

Ways to Spruce Up Your Pad Thai

  • tofu, shrimp, chicken, beef, or other protein
  • bean sprouts
  • cilantro, garlic scapes, scallions, or other pungent, herby greens
  • chopped peanuts or cashews
  • chili oil, chili crunch, chili flakes

By and large, this is at its core a simple dish–remember, in Thailand this is often served as street food–so keeping it simple is a great way to honor pad thai’s distinct flavor.

Tamarind Paste–Do I Really Need It?

While a quick google search has proved that there are a plethora of pad thai recipes on the internet which skip this ingredient in favor of more…shall we say, “western”?…ingredients, I find that the tamarind paste not only is a key player in pad thai’s trademark tangy flavor, but it also contributes to the overall color of the dish as well. I have made this dish with and without tamarind paste and, I have to say, that certain je ne sais quoi is really present WITH the paste. Fortunately, you can find tamarind purée for as little as $4 and use it in both sweet and savory dishes…plus, who doesn’t love expanding their flavor dictionary?

What Is Tamarind?

Also called tamarindo or Indian date, tamarind is a fruit in the legume family which grows in tropical places. The brown, sticky pulp is harvested from around the seeds growing in crescent-shaped pods hanging from the tamarind tree, then is pulverized and sold as a paste. Tamarind’s distinctive flavor comes from its high tartaric acid content, which is most commonly connoted with grapes. (Cream of tartar is the powdered form of this acid, and is the ingredient which gives snickerdoodle cookies their familiar tang.)

Other Uses for Tamarind Purée

  • Meat tenderizer–tamarind and beef are a classic combination, as tamarind is one of the primary ingredients in Worcestershire sauce
  • Blended with spices and coconut milk (think: garam masala, curry, turmeric, ginger…)
  • Tempered with sugar in sweets or baked goods anywhere you might use lemon juice
  • Blended into shrubs or cocktails
  • Check out this recipe for agua fresca, a sort of tropical “lemonade” !

But back to pad thai…

First, gather your ingredients.

Here I’ve featured a block of extra firm tofu as my main source of protein, accompanied by two eggs; of course, choose whatever protein is going to make your pad thai dreams come true. Shrimp or prawns are an excellent choice.

Dredge the tofu in cornstarch and fry, rotating until golden; scramble the eggs; make the sauce; grate the ginger, garlic, and onion; cook the noodles…then assemble in a hot pan or wok!

Finish with herbs, any chili products, bean sprouts, and chopped nuts. Enjoy immediately, and restart the clock for “when it’s time to eat pad thai again”…but don’t wait too long! 😉

Pad Thai

Sauce-drenched noodles mix with roasted nuts, herbs, scrambled eggs, and protein come together on one happy plate. As close to "authentic" pad thai as can be!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Thai
Servings 2 people

Equipment

  • wok (optional)

Ingredients
  

  • 4 oz dry rice noodles
  • boiling water (enough to cover noodles)
  • 2 eggs, lightly scrambled
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated finely into a pulp
  • 3 garlic cloves, medium
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
  • 8 oz extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry with paper towels, and cut into 1" cubes
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 Tbs coconut oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 Tbs peanut oil
  • 3 Tbs fish sauce
  • 3 Tbs brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • 3 Tbs tamarind water, (Note: If your tamarind comes in a thick paste, dilute with water until it is the consistency of orange juice.)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • fresh bean sprouts, chili flakes or paste, chopped scallions or cilantro, roasted peanuts and/or cashews, optional

Instructions
 

  • Prepare any toppings you might like to add to your pad thai like herbs or scallions, roasted nuts, lime, or chili products and set aside.
  • Scramble the two eggs in a small bowl with a splash of room temperature water and set aside.
  • Grate onion, garlic, and ginger on the second-finest side of a box grater and set aside.
  • Whisk fish sauce, tamarind, brown sugar, and soy sauce in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup and set aside.
  • Cook your protein. If using tofu like featured above, drain and dry the tofu and cut it into one inch cubes. Dredge in cornstarch and salt. Heat coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat and sautee the tofu cubes until golden brown on all sides, rotating as necessary, about 15 minutes. Drain over paper towels.
  • Meanwhile, place your rice noodles in a wide, shallow bowl. Boil enough water to completely cover the noodles, and let them soak undisturbed for 7 minutes.
  • While the noodles are soaking, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok, if using. Add the ginger, garlic, and onion "paste" and sautee until the onion becomes aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add the beaten eggs to the pan and mix with a spatula until incorporated and cook for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to medium and add the drained, slightly stiff noodles to the pan and stir. Cook, stirring constantly for another 3 minutes.
  • Add pad thai sauce (fish sauce mixture) and cook for another minute.
  • If using, toss in any bean sprouts and turn off the heat. Finish with a generous squeeze of lime and the sauteed tofu and stir.
  • Top with herbs, nuts, or chili flakes and serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.
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Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Mac & Cheese

Some people say “I love you” with cards and flowers. Others do it with mac and cheese.

Here in the South, baked mac and cheese seems to be a dietary requirement; it’s on nearly every menu that in any way boasts a connection to “soul food” and can be found both as dressed up rotini with a fancy cheese sauce made from gruyere AND unfussy elbows tossed in a Velveeta solution. One thing all of these versions have in common is their unequivocal deliciousness…one doesn’t even mind that with each forkful their arteries are clogging and, with each second helping they are solidifying a pending commitment at the gym. Sometimes, the heart just wants cheesy carbs and, being a heart-leading individual, I find this echo of longing hard to stave off for more than a week or two.

If you are reading this, chances are you too enjoy a sinfully large heap of steaming, cheese-coated noodles from time to time. I won’t bother you with the nutrition facts of today’s recipe, as sometimes it truly is better not to know.

What I will say is, it is really hard to have a bad day when you’re eating bacon, cheese, hamburger meat, and spiced breadcrumbs all in one bite. Believe me. I tried. And I wasn’t even mad to eat this as dinner for several days in a row…or lunch, for that matter. Mac and cheese is just kind of magical that way.

If you have children or are trying to pinch pennies, this recipe is especially for you. Each serving is incredibly filling and offers a significant amount of protein, and definitely has enough, erm, caloric value to keep even your most athletic family member going from lunch until dinner. Add a vegetable and a salad to your plate and you’ve got a “balanced” meal! (If you’re feeling particularly virtuous, throw some chopped cauliflower into your pasta water in the last few minutes before al dente and mix in with the ground beef and cheese sauce…but let’s just say this dish has no intentions of claiming to be “healthy”…)

Mac and Cheese Facts

  • Thomas Jefferson’s black chef, James Hemmings, is the first known person to cook mac and cheese in America.
  • Cheese dates back around 10,000 years and was originally made as a way to preserve farm fresh milk.
  • The first cheese factory opened in the United States in 1851, which caused cheddar cheese to be one of the first foods affected by the Industrial Revolution.
  • Velveeta cheese has over 22 ingredients and is no longer regulated as a cheese.
  • Kraft mac and cheese was originally created in order to provide the cheapest protein to American families possible.
  • The recipe for macaroni and cheese likely originated from Northern Europe, though the first record of a recognizable recipe dates back to 1769.

For more on mac and cheese, check out this article from the Smithsonian.

Good lord, it looks like nearly equal parts cheese and pasta…oh well. Who’s complaining about this? I ask the reader! Bacon and lean hamburger meat make delightful additions to the bubbling, cheesy pasta, which, as you can see here, consisted of two different pasta shapes I was trying to get rid of. This is a comfort food, not a gastronomic masterpiece, after all.

I cooked the bacon slices then snipped into bits using kitchen shears, then browned the beef in the bacon fat, which I reserved when the meat was done. Featured next to these two plates is a bowl full of panko breadcrumbs, seasoned with oregano, garlic salt, onion salt, and paprika.

What we have here is cheesy, meaty noodles. 🙂 I made a simple roux using the reserved bacon/beef fat and butter, then added milk and grated cheese. In go the cooked noodles and ground beef, then bacon bits, breadcrumbs, and a sprinkling of grated parmesan for good measure. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown. Broil on hi for a few minutes if you want it extra crispy.

Add something green to your plate to pretend you are a grown up and enjoy the fruits of your labor; now pull out your colander and get ready to make mac and cheese! 🙂

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Mac & Cheese

Cheesy noodles nestled with bacon and ground beef are topped with crispy, spiced breadcrumbs for comfort food perfection!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, Southern Cooking

Equipment

  • Dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 pieces thick cut bacon, cooked, chopped, and with rendered fat reserved
  • 1 16 oz package of ground beef, lean is ok
  • 1 1/2 cups panko, unseasoned
  • 1 tsp paprika, smoked or unsmoked
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or substitute equal parts dried oregano and parsley)
  • 3/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 3/4 tsp onion salt
  • freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 16 oz pasta, shape of your choice--rotini is great for maximum sauciness
  • 4 Tbs butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups grated cheese, tightly packed (cheddar is classic but feel free to sub gruyere or gouda)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • In a large pan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until cooked but not quite crispy. Snip into 1/4" strips or roughly chop and set aside.
  • In the same skillet used to cook the bacon, brown the ground beef over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove beef and drain on a plate covered in paper towels. Pour any remaining fat from the pan into a dish to use later. You should have about 1 tablespoon.
  • Mix breadcrumbs and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil on the stove. Meanwhile, grate the cheese. Boil pasta until just cooked, 8-12 minutes depending on the shape. Drain in a colander over the sink. If you are worried about the pasta sticking into one mass while you make the roux, reserve enough cooking water to keep the pasta wet while you prepare the cheese sauce. Pasta cooking water contains starch which prevents the pasta from sticking together.
  • In a medium-sized dutch oven, heat butter and reserved bacon fat over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, turn heat down to low and add flour, whisking until incorporated. Cook the flour over low heat until it foams and turns a golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk, whisking continuously, until fully incorporated. It may seem liquidy at first; add the grated cheddar (or alternative) cheese and whisk until the cheese has fully melted.
  • Add cooked ground beef and drained pasta to the dutch oven and stir until fully incorporated.
  • Dress the top of the mixture with the cooked bacon bits. Sprinkle the spiced bread crumbs over the top of the pasta until fully covered. Add an even layer of parmesan over the top and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. If you desire crispier breadcrumbs, broil over high heat for several minutes. Serve immediately!
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Hearty McQueen Family Scones

In the wide world of baked goods, maybe one sweet treat in every twenty is worth baking (or eating!) again. Oftentimes, we bakers cover our “sins” in sugar, which easily becomes the dominant flavor in whatever we are creating. While it is true that this often has crowd-pleasing results, what we gain in popularity we often lose in nuance. Have you ever taken a bite of a buttercream frosted cupcake which instantly made your teeth hurt? We’ve all been there. And while the point of frosting is to be a sweet addition to a cake or cookie or whoopee pie, nowhere in the rules does it say it must be only sweet. The challenge then becomes: how can I bring out the positive flavors in the butter? Can I add some salt for increased complexity, and to balance the sugar? Are there any flavored extracts I might use? What if I sweetened with honey instead of powdered sugar? Et cetera.

Impassioned feelings about frosting quality aside, these scones are anything but basic sugary fluff. Fortified with oats and moistened with buttermilk, these barely-sweet scones offer tart cherries where others might offer chocolate chips. This is not your average baked good, people. This scone is the stuff of legends, and makes for a breakfast of similarly epic proportions. There’s really no word for them better than “hearty;” so if that’s not your bag (and I get it, it’s not everyone’s bag) then you may want to check out this recipe for decadent chocolate cake instead!

soak your cherries ! 🙂

I find I have best results when I soak my cherries in water before baking. That’s them relaxing in a jar full of water in the upper right corner.

Why Soak?

Those who fail to soak may end up with a drier overall baked good, as the cherry will draw moisture from the dough during the baking process. If you want your scones around for more than one day, moisture becomes even more precious–not to mention the cherries have a much more enjoyable texture when still plump and juicy after baking. So, soak your cherries anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight.

Are These Scones Good For Me? If So, Are They Boring?

The short answer to the first part is, all things considered, for a sweet treat yes, they are relatively healthy. There’s no shortage of butter, but hey, these scones have lasting power that may save you some calories down the road. Plus they’ve got fiber from the oats and vitamins C, A, and K, antioxidants, and several minerals from cherries to boot. It’s not as good for you as taking a supplement, but is, perhaps, tastier, and, perhaps, more comforting.

Which brings us to the “are they healthy and therefore uninteresting” part of the posited question. If you like textural juxtaposition in your mouthfeel experience when eating, feeling nourished and also like you’re getting away with something at the same time, and eating cherries in any capacity, then chances are these scones probably won’t bore you. I have probably made these scones dozens of times and still reliably crave them. But if, being a reasonable and sophisticated adult, you already think healthy and delicious don’t have to be mortal enemies, then you probably won’t take much convincing about these scones…fiber content aside.

use a pastry cutter or your fingers to incorporate butter <3

If you have a pastry cutter at home, now is its moment! But if you are one of those who takes pleasure in the tactile, you may enjoy incorporating the cold butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Somewhere, I have a pastry cutter which is feeling neglected…

dough disc

Flatten your dough into a disc about an inch and a half thick, slice into eight relatively uniform triangles, and bake until golden brown. Something to consider: the more you incorporate your ingredients, the tougher your scones will be. Every time you push and pull on your dough, you are participating in forming a gluten network. While this is great for breads, most folks tend to prefer a tender scone. Mix with your hands or a wooden spoon until everything just comes together.

Best when shared (but you already knew that)! These scones last, at best, for two full days but really are best when eaten the day you decide to bake them. You can always freeze them in a freezer-safe bag if you think eight scones is too much to enjoy or distribute.

Hearty McQueen Scones

Soaked tart cherries and wholesome oats mean this buttermilk-moistened scone has some serious lasting power! Makes a great breakfast.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine baking, Healthy, traditional
Servings 8 scones

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 8 Tbs butter, (salted is fine)
  • 1 cup whole oats
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries, soaked in water at least 30 minutes to overnight
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar together. Add butter in small cubes, and combine using a pastry cutter or fork.
  • Add oats, cherries, and buttermilk, mixing after each individual addition. After adding the buttermilk, mix until just combined.
  • Shape dough into a disc about an inch and a half thick, using a floured surface and your hands.
  • Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut the dough into eight triangular pieces. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Keep in an airtight container up to two days.
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