Sunday, January 23, 2011

The life of a lemon bread.

 glazed lemon bread

It starts with lemons.

meyer lemons

There is some zesting of lemon, and a mixing bowl or two, and an amazing smell of baked lemon bread filling the house. Make sure to hang around for that smell. I suggest leaving the kitchen for a few minutes and enjoying the aroma from a different room, just to really embrace the effect that sweet lemon can have on a home on a cold winter day. It's really one of the best parts.

glazed lemon bread

Then, there is a week of eating lemon bread for breakfast, after dinner, and before bed. It's best to just set the loaf on the counter, on a cutting board, wrapped in cling wrap or aluminum foil, with a knife handy at all times. From there, you can slice off a piece whenever you want. This bread goes especially nicely with a tall glass of milk. It also makes a very nice snack while writing a blog post. Just saying.

glazed lemon bread
glazed lemon bread

Here's another good part: This bread is really cake. But you pour the batter into a loaf pan, and just like that, it's bread. So you can slice it up like bread, and eat it for breakfast and before bed, and even while you blog, and all the while, there is this sweet, gooey, lemony glaze that has saturated the top crust, and it quietly screams "Cake!" as you break it apart and eat it with your bare hands, at any time of day.

In the end, after the week is up, there is another loaf of lemon bread, bright and freshly baked. Eat, enjoy, repeat.

glazed lemon bread

Glazed Lemon Bread (from Simply Recipes)
I used Meyer lemons for both loaves, and they were delicious.

4 ounces (1 stick/8 Tbsp) butter, softened
1 cup minus 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp lemon zest, from 1 large lemon
1/2 cup whole milk (I used low-fat milk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup lemon juice (from about 1 1/2 lemons)
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 4x8-inch or 5x9-inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside.

With a mixer, beat the butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and honey, continue to beat until creamy, a few minutes more. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition to incorporate. On low speed, slowly beat the milk in. Do not worry if the mixture looks a little curdled. Mix in lemon zest.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, beating until smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour at 350°F.

While the lemon bread is baking, prepare the glaze. Heat the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan on low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

When the bread is done, poke holes all over the top with a thin skewer or toothpick (this will help the glaze penetrate). Spoon the glaze over it while the bread is still in the pan and is still hot. Use a brush to make sure every corner is covered. Use all of the glaze! Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan and slicing to serve.

Makes one loaf.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kale Caesar Salad. With fried chickpeas.

Let's have salad.

kale caesar salad with fried chickpeas

OK, so I know it's cold outside, and a good part of the country is experiencing blizzards and snow days and all that wintry stuff that makes most people want to hole up in their living room and not come out until there is color and life in the world again. Trust me, I know the feeling. But after eating soup and soup and soup, all day every day, I thought I should bring something a little fresh and crisp into the mix. Hence, salad.

Now before you start thinking that this is the kind of salad that will contribute to the New Year's resolution we all keep making, year after year (in my case, come the holidays, when I'm having hot cocoa and chocolate chip cookies for breakfast and telling myself that it's Christmas, after all, and I'll work it all off after the new year), let me just tell you right now: This is not that kind of salad. This is kale Caesar salad. With fried chickpeas.

When I first saw this recipe in my cookbook, I knew I would like it for three reasons. First, it involves kale and chickpeas, which is a combo that can't really go wrong. Second, it is a unique take on the traditional Caesar salad, which is usually just OK at best, but this recipe could take it to a completely different level. And third, Di, one of my lovely bridesmaids, college roommate of three years, lets-skip-gym-class-together partner-in-crime through high school, whom I have known since the first grade, left this note on the recipe: "You MUST MUST MUST make this!" Well, I guess it's settled then. We're having salad today.

kale caesar salad with fried chickpeas

I was a little hesitant, at first, to make a salad with raw kale. The raw egg yolk I could deal with, but the raw kale? I like my kale cooked, just slightly softened or even crisp on the edges, and I was afraid that eating it raw would be a bit too bitter for my tastes. I considered cooking the kale just for a minute or two before tossing into the salad, but then decided to just follow the recipe, and I'm so glad I did.

Once coated in Caesar dressing, the kale's bitterness is calmed while its texture holds up as strong as ever, better than any romaine lettuce leaf could. The chickpeas are fried to a deep golden brown, crisp throughout and lending a nutty bite to the salad. The capers, also fried (God bless 'em), provide a sharp contrast to the creamy, tangy dressing. This is not your New Year's diet salad. This is a winter salad, sturdy enough to help brave even the coldest of winter storms, with rich, warm flavors that comfort as well as any stew.

Thanks for the recipe, Di!

kale caesar salad with fried chickpeas

Kale Caesar Salad with Fried Chickpeas (recipe courtesy of Di, from
Because the kale is so sturdy, this salad holds up well even after a day. You can make this salad ahead of time, or enjoy it right away and refrigerate any leftovers.

For the salad:
1 bunch dinosaur (Tuscan) kale
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and completely dried
1 jar capers, drained
canola oil for frying
Caesar dressing (recipe below)
shaved Parmesan

Heat a shallow pan over medium-high heat with enough oil to cover the chickpeas (I used a small frying pan and about 3/4 cup oil). Once oil is hot, add chickpeas and fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown and crunchy all the way through. Be careful of oil spatter. Watch the chickpeas carefully -- it will take them a while to start turning golden brown, but once they do, it is only a matter of minutes before they can burn. When done, use a slotted spoon to transfer the chickpeas to a plate lined with paper towel.

Add capers to the oil. Again, be careful of splatter. Fry until crispy, about 3 minutes. Remove and drain on a paper towel. (I poured the capers through a mesh strainer with a jar for catching the oil underneath.)

Rinse and dry kale well. Discard any discolored leaves, and trim away tough stems. Chiffon the leaves to bite size pieces, and place kale in a large bowl.

Toss kale with Caesar dressing (recipe below) to coat. Top with fried chickpeas, capers and Parmesan.

For the Caesar dressing:
1 egg yolk
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 red pepper flakes
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
3 anchovy fillets, mashed (I skipped these because didn't have any)
scant cup of peanut oil (I used olive oil)
1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Whisk egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, mustard and anchovies (if using) together. Slowly whisk in oil to emulsify. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in a covered container. When ready to use, whisk again.

Makes 2 cups

Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Make Lumpia (Filipino Eggrolls)

lumpia prito

On Sunday, I made cabbage soup. It wasn't very good. I didn't really know what to expect when I found the recipe -- it involved sour cream, which kind of weirded me out -- and when all was said and done, I realized I should've just trusted my gut instinct and made tortellini soup, instead. I even considered throwing it out, but then decided it was still edible, and packed it up for the week's lunch, anyway. It's going to be a long week.

But, fortunately, that's all I have to say about cabbage soup, because I also made lumpia! For the first time! All by myself! *Cue trumpets, dancers and wild applause.*

lumpia prito

Lumpia (I believe the correct plural form is lumpiang, but we never call it that in my family, so please excuse the slew of incorrect Filipino grammar that follows) refers to Filipino eggrolls, and comes in several different forms, but there are two types with which most people are familiar and that my mom most often makes. At my wedding, we served Lumpia Shanghai, which are small, thin and usually consist mainly of ground pork and very few, finely diced veggies, if any. These are dangerous deep-fried specimens, each consumed in no more than three bites, and entire plates known to be devoured in just minutes. You can see a picture of Lumpia Shanghai, in all its glory, here.

Lumpia Prito, or what I grew up calling "vegetable lumpia" (even though it usually contains meat, but more vegetables than Lumpia Shanghai, so maybe that explains it), are the eggrolls I made today and my favorite type of lumpia. My mom makes them large, similar to the size of the eggrolls you might order at a Chinese restaurant. However, I've always felt that Chinese restaurant eggrolls can be too greasy, often filled with too much cabbage or bean sprouts, and rolled with too-thick wrappers. Lumpia wrappers are much thinner, making them incredibly light and crisp when fried, and when talking on the phone with my mom about how to make lumpia, she reminded me not to add too much cabbage because she "just doesn't like it." OK, Mom. I totally agree.

The following how-to and recipe is based on my memory and years of experience as Assistant-to-Mom in the lumpia-making process, as well as a brief run-down from my mom as I shopped for lumpia wrappers. Let's get to it, shall we?

ground pork lumpia filling

First, make the filling, which is as simple as cooking some ground pork in onions and garlic, then adding green beans, carrots and cabbage, and seasoning with fish sauce (or soy sauce), salt and pepper. My mom sometimes likes to add potatoes and even sweet potatoes. Other fillings include ground turkey, bean sprouts or water chestnuts. You can even skip the meat altogether -- the possibilities are endless, really.

lumpia wrappers

You'll need lumpia wrappers. I found these in the frozen section at my local Asian grocery store, and chose this particular brand because they looked familiar to me. Just make sure they're square. Thaw them overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for a few hours (the stack will still be pretty firm even when thawed), and carefully peel them apart before rolling.

lumpia wrappers

Here's a tip for separating the wrappers: Peel apart a large chunk at a time, then continue to divide each chunk in half until you're left with single wrappers. Keep your stack of wrappers between two damp paper towels to keep them from drying out while you roll.

making lumpia

After the filling has cooled completely, scoop a little less than half a cup into a small, rectangular mound just below the middle of the wrapper. This is kind of a lot of filling, but these are big eggrolls, so just go with it.

rolling lumpia

Carefully roll the lumpia, keeping the filling compact and making sure the wrapper is tight. Pull the sides across the top so that the lumpia resembles an open envelope.

lumpia prito
lumpio prito

Roll the lumpia once more until just the edge is exposed, and brush the edge with egg to seal. Brush the outside seams with more egg.

lumpia prito
frying lumpia

Place eggrolls seamside down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then fry the eggrolls in batches, on all sides, until golden brown. (Start frying seam side down to avoid the lumpia from opening in the pan.)

I always eat these with a simple sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and black pepper.

I'm not really sure how to end this post, but Murdo just told me to "wrap it up" (ha ha) already, so here is the recipe. Go make lumpia! (And do not make cabbage soup.)

lumpia prito

Lumpia Prito
Makes 12 lumpiang

For the filling:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 lb ground pork* (can use ground turkey)
1 cup onions, diced
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup green beans, sliced thinly on a diagonal
3/4 cup cabbage, sliced small
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1/4 cup fish sauce (can substitute soy sauce)
salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add ground pork, breaking up and cooking until no longer pink. Add the green beans, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add carrots, cook 1-2 minutes longer. Add cabbage and cook until slightly softened. Add fish sauce and stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.

(The key here is to not overcook the vegetables, as they will continue to cook later when frying the eggrolls. Instead, you want them just slightly cooked, so that they are bright but not too tender.)

Transfer pork mixture to a colander and let excess fat and moisture drain. Let cool completely. (I'm not sure what happens if you attempt to roll lumpia with warm filling, but I'm guessing the wrappers get soggy and fall apart. Just don't do it.) Filling can be made even further in advance -- I made my filling the night before, let cool and then stored in the refrigerator until ready to roll the lumpia the following morning.

For the rolling of the lumpia:
Parchment or wax paper
12 square lumpia wrappers (see tips for separating lumpia and keeping lumpia wrappers, above)
1 egg, beaten
Pork mixture, recipe above

On a large piece of parchment paper, position the lumpia wrapper so that it is a diamond facing you, with a pointed edge toward you. Scoop about 1/2 cup (I used slightly less than 1/2 cup, about 3/8 cup) of the pork mixture to form a rectangular mound just below the middle of the wrapper.

Pull the bottom edge of the wrapper over the filling, and gently tighten the wrapper around the filling. Fold the right and left edges over so that they touch in the middle and the wrapper now resembles an open envelope. Roll the entire lumpia over so that there is about a 1-inch seam exposed, then brush and seal with egg. You can also brush the outside seam with more egg.

Place seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining wrappers until the pork mixture is gone. Should make about 12.

(You can store these in the refrigerator for a few days until ready to roll, or even store them in the freezer for several months. Just be sure to thaw completely before frying.)

For the frying of the lumpia:
Heat 3-4 tablespoons of canola oil in a small skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot, working in batches, place 3-4 eggrolls (do not overcrowd) in the skillet, seam side down, and fry on all sides until golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel, add more oil to pan if needed, and repeat frying process with remaining eggrolls.

Serve immediately with lumpia sauce (recipe below). To reheat, place in a toaster oven at 350 F for 3-5 minutes until hot and crispy. Every oven is different, so just be sure to watch carefully.

For the lumpia sauce:
Combine 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1-2 tablespoon vinegar, 1-2 smashed garlic cloves, and ground pepper into a small bowl. Adjust to your tastes.

For the eating of the lumpia:
Dip the end of the eggroll into the sauce. Take a big bite. Enjoy. Don't dip again -- first of all, double dipping is gross. Second, the filling is loose and will likely fall into the sauce if you turn your eggroll upside down. Instead, take a small spoonful of sauce and drizzle over each individual bite. Enjoy some more.

lumpia filling

*I used non-enhanced, non-confined, growth-hormone-free ground pork from Twin Oak Meats in Fairbury, Illinois. Purchased from Farm Fresh Foodstuffs.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Not-boring vegetable stew.

So. Now that we've got that whole crazy year out of the way, I have a confession to make: I'm boring. Perhaps not the most promising discovery to come to at the start of a new year, unless I'm the type to make resolutions that involve becoming more not-boring, but. Eh.

Now, here's a secret: I'm kind of OK with it. My NYE spent in playing board games with close friends was one of the most enjoyable I've had in years. My journal does not consist of Dear-Diary moments with episodes of sex, drama and alcohol, but rather lists of what I ate that day and corresponding calorie counts, with a grocery list and weekly menu plan thrown in for good measure. My today's exciting events include getting a new TV stand, adding bacon to my soup, and enjoying our new ottoman as I sit on the couch and watch movies. My lunch has been the same vegetable stew for the past three days straight, and I plan on eating the same again tomorrow.

Bo-oring. And yet, I'm satisfied. Content. Happy.

hearty vegetable stew

Here's a story: The other day, I asked Murdo to buy some grapefruit for me if he noticed they were on sale. He came home with 18 pounds of grapefruit. I realize this story is neither interesting nor relevant, but I find it somewhat amusing, and that's all I've got right now. Besides this vegetable stew.

Actually, I think this vegetable stew may spark your interest, as we're all getting over our butter overdoses from the holidays and the webosphere is crawling with healthy recipes, low-calorie recipes, comfort foods that won't make you fatter. It's hearty, with only 180 calories per serving, two types of meaty mushrooms, and a traditional base of onions, carrots and potatoes that will make you simultaneously think of beef stew whilst forgetting that beef stew is supposed to include beef. Sounds pretty not-boring to me! I'll take it.

I hope you'll take it, too, and won't take the lack of exciting news around these parts as a layout for the 2011 to come. I mean, I admit that I'm boring and all, but not all the time (I hope). I'll find something interesting to write about soon enough, and when I do, I'll shout it from the rooftops while flinging delicious food in your general direction. Just stick around and you'll see.

hearty vegetable stew

Hearty Vegetable Stew (from The Best Light Recipe by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated)
According to the CI editors, this stew does not get better over time, unlike traditional beef stews. However, I made this on a Sunday afternoon and, rather than eat it immediately, packed it up for my week's lunches. I think the stew held up rather nicely all week.

2 medium onions, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
4 large carrots (about 1 lb), peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon olive oil
9 medium portobello mushrooms (about 1 1/4 lbs), stems discarded, gills removed, caps halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
10 ounces white mushrooms, halved with stems removed
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, or 1 teaspoon fresh
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
4 medium red potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
ground black pepper, to taste

Add onions, carrot, celery, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat and cover. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and increase heat to medium high. Cook until all the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until wine is reduced by half, about 2 minutes.

Add the broth, water, tomatoes with their juices, bay leaves, and potatoes. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Partially cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the stew has thickened and is flavorful, about 1 hour. Add water if the stew is too thick.

Take pot of heat and stir in the peas. Cover and let stand until peas are warmed through, about 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar, discard bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8 (I halved this recipe)
Serving: 1 1/2 cups
Calories per serving: 180