Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

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How to Make Insta-Worthy Avocado Toast

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Last year at Eat Retreat, I found myself in a car, on my way to a vineyard, talking about toast. Yes, as in, toasted bread. The conversation turned to the popularity of cupcakes, doughnuts and most recently, the cronut. We all agreed there was room for a new trend in town. Thanks to bakeries like The Mill in SF and cafes such as Sqirl in LA, there is a legitimate artisan bread movement going on. And the best way to enjoy bread? Toasted, with lots of toppings. My pal Trisha has a lot to say about it here. Whether is marion berry jam (Portlandia, anyone?) or cultured butter and flaky sea salt, toast is getting a major upgrade. My favorite way to enjoy it? With avocado, of course. While there’s nothing wrong with smashing a ripe avocado on toast, there’s something so right about taking it to the next level.

And here we go.

Start by toasting your bread. What kind of bread? The ultimate (in my book) is thick-cut sourdough. Something with a crisp crust and chewy middle. Try and cut it yourself, if you can. I also love a super-thin Danish rye. I don’t have a toaster so I use my broiler and give the bread a flip halfway through. You want a golden, crisp edge. Give it time. While the bread toasts, ready your avocado. You want to make sure the avocado is green under it’s stem. Go ahead, give it a peak when you’re at the store. When ripe, the avo will be pretty soft, like a ripe peach. Cut it like this. Using a fork, scoop about half the avo onto the toast, using the fork tines to spread and smash. It’s all about the fork-smash. At this point, get creative. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is a must. Give it some heat with fresh cracked pepper, Aleppo pepper, Szechuan pepper, whatever you like most. Hot sauce (I like chipotle Cholula) or sriracha is also delicious. Bonus points for out-of-the box toppings like black sesame seeds, wasabi powder, feta, smoked salmon, toasted sunflower seeds, chia, dried cranberries or hemp. A light sprinkle of soft herbs, baby arugula or micro greens ups the ante (and nutrition). A squeeze of lemon is never out of place. For the ultimate, put an egg on it. And don’t forget to take a picture. #avocadotoast

Game-changing combos:

  • Avo + dark rye + hot smoked salmon + dill + chives + lemon
  • Avo + sourdough + heirloom tomato (when in season, of course) + bacon + scallion
  • Avo + toasted pita + dukkah + feta
  • Avo + tamari rice cake + thin sliced cucumber + sriracha + Togarashi seasoning

Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Tomato Relish

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While your Instagram feed may be blowing up with everything pumpkin spice, it’s still summer in my kitchen. Last winter, I signed up for my first CSA share. CSA stands for ‘Community Supported Agriculture’, and essentially it’s an investment into a farm. In exchange, you have the fortune of (in my case) 22 weeks of outstanding organic vegetables. Each Wednesday night, I walk about about 15 minutes to the pick-up site. I choose and weigh my vegetables and load them into my granny cart (glamorous, I know). A sample share from July:

  • fennel: 1 piece
  • peppers: 3 pieces
  • eggplant: 1 piece
  • fava beans: 1 pound
  • beets: 1 pound
  • garlic scapes: 0.25 pound
  • cucumbers: 2 pounds
  • greens: 1 pound
  • lettuce: 2 pieces
  • squash: 3 pieces

As you can see, you have to be cool with eating tons of veggies throughout the week. I’ve made countless batches of ratatouille, hot and cold soups and all manner of salads. My grocery shopping these days usually consists of breakfast staples, proteins/meat and fruit. I opted out of the fruit share, but I now wish I did (one week they got 5 lbs. of sour cherries…jealous!) Aside from a packed fridge to work through, it’s actually simplified the cooking I do at home.

I’ve been receiving a steady stream of eggplant all summer. Long, skinny eggplant, baby ‘fairy tale’ eggplant, even white ones. To prevent eggplant burnout (it’s a thing), I try to vary how I use it week to week. One week, it’s pasta alla norma, a recipe my Aunt Lee introduced me to. Another week, it might be miso-glazed eggplant over rice. This falafel-stuffed eggplant has got to be one of my favorites. I made it late last summer and dreamed of making it again ever since. What’s cool is you actually get two recipes in one – save the inside of the eggplant for baba ganoush.  This is your chance to use the last of the season’s tomatoes – get them before they’re gone! And if you’re not a member of a CSA, check out your local farmer’s market for most of the ingredients.

Falafel-Stuffed Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Green Tomato Relish

Recipe from Cooking Light

Tahini sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Eggplant:

  • 2 eggplants (about 12 ounces each)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper (I used Piment D’Ville)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas ( or 1 15-ounce can)

Relish:

  • 1 cup chopped seeded tomato  (I used a green tomato, use what you have)
  • 1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Ground sumac, for serving (optional)

Heat oven to 475°.

To prepare eggplant, slice the eggplants in half lengthwise; score cut sides with a crosshatch pattern. Place the eggplant halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with olive oil. Bake at 475° for 7 minutes or until slightly tender and browned. Remove from oven; carefully scoop out pulp, leaving a 3/4-inch shell. Reserve pulp for another use (such as babaganoush). Season cut sides with about 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Combine about 1/2 teaspoon salt, onion, and next 11 ingredients (through chickpeas) in a food processor; process until smooth. Spoon 1/2 cup chickpea mixture into each eggplant shell. Bake at 475° for 25 minutes or until eggplant halves are tender and chickpea mixture is lightly browned.

To prepare sauce, combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk. Set aside.

To prepare relish, combine the tomato and remaining ingredients in a bowl; stir to combine.

Top eggplant with relish and sauce. Sprinkle with sumac before serving.

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

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One of my favorite “work perks” is free reign of a fully stocked pantry. I love rummaging through the cabinets looking for snack inspiration. I often make a simple snack for my cooking class students, especially if they’ll be eating towards the end of class. I’ve made countless cast-iron fritattas, crostini variations and cheese plates. But as the weather cools down, the oven turns up. Scones have become my go-to classroom snack lately, and for good reason. They are ridiculously simple to pull together and the flavor combinations are endless. Depending on my mood or the theme of the class, I’ll throw in fruit, nuts, herbs or even cheese. Unlike biscuits, these are more akin to English cream scones, relying on a heavy dose of the white stuff instead of butter. Yet somehow they come out of the oven super flaky and buttery. They would make a perfect addition to your next brunch or alongside a cup of coffee or milky tea. Let me know what flavors you come up with!

 

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

makes about 20 to 24 small or 8-10 medium scones

adapted from King Arthur Flour via Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus more for brushing the top
  • about 3/4 cup of anything (chopped fresh or dried fruit, chocolate chips, toasted nuts, etc.)
  • 1 teaspoon citrus zest (optional)
  • Raw sugar for topping
  • Jam, curd and/ or whipped cream for serving (optional)

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, backing powder, salt, and sugar.  Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup mix together vanilla extract and 1 1/3 cups cream. Drizzle the cream mixture into the dry ingredients tossing and stirring as you pour in the cream.  Add any mix-ins and zest, if using. Toss together.  Add 2 more tablespoons of cream if necessary to create a moist, cohesive, but not sticky dough.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Gently gather and knead the dough into a dish and press the disk out into a 3/4″-thickness.

Use a small biscuit cutter to cut small 1 1/4-inch circles from the dough disk.  Brush each circle with heave cream and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

 

Add-in suggestions:

1 T. orange zest + 1/3 cup dried cranberries + 1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

1 T. lemon zest + 1/2 cup fresh berries (such as raspberries or blueberries)

For savory scones, you can omit the sugar and add a few handfuls of shredded cheese and/or herbs

 

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

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No matter where I am in NYC, I can most likely name the neighborhood’s best cookie. Dumbo? Jacques Torres. Upper West Side? Levain, no doubt. Union Square? Try the chocolate chip at Paradis. Oh, and City Bakery. A solid cup of coffee alongside is a non-negotiable.

 
Call it old fashioned, but I love a classic molasses cookie. You don’t see them very often at bake shops. I’ve heard Pushcart Coffee has a good one.. I grew up eating my grandmother’s soft, chewy version, rolled in sugar. They were stored in a cookie tin with a piece of bread to keep them fresh (p.s. that trick works).

 
Using her recipe as inspiration, along with an updated mix of spices from December’s Bon Appetit, I’ve created a cookie fit for the holidays. Browning the butter is an extra step that gives these cookies some nuttiness. The combination of dark molasses and brown sugar lends some drama. A sprinkle of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are a bit spicy, in a good way. Don’t forget to roll them in sugar, preferably the raw stuff (grab a couple more packets when you get your coffee). Which you’ll definitely want to be drinking while you eat one of these.

Brown Butter Molasses Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup dark molasses
  • ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • Raw sugar, for rolling
  1. Heat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until foaming subsides and butter turns a nutty dark brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, brown butter butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.
  3. Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls. Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. Using the heel of your hand, press down on cookies to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with a bit more raw sugar on top.
  4. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (over-baked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. You may have to bake the cookies in batches. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container with a piece of bread to keep them fresh for days.

Quinoa with Red Plums, Thyme and Crispy Cauliflower

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I make some variation on this dish just about once a week. A grain-based, lettuce-less salad is perfect for long-day, late night dinners or work lunches. The idea of using your pantry and supplementing with fresh ingredients works for me. Believe it or not, I don’t reinvent the wheel each night for dinner. Nope. Not even close. I do, however, keep a laundry list of staples on hand as building blocks for meals. Grains, beans, dried fruit, toasty nuts and herbs, herbs, herbs keep things fresh. For this salad, I combined quinoa with tart red plums (a recent discovery from Sahadi’s), scallions, a handful of herbs and (leftover) roasted cauliflower. It was part fridge clean-out, part Balaboosta-wannabe, all together delicious.

Quinoa with Red Plums, Thyme and Crispy Cauliflower

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, tough stems removed and cut into small florets
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 16 ounces water or chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Handful dried red plums, chopped (can substitute dried cranberries)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Fresh black pepper

Heat oven to 425F.

Place cauliflower on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and toss with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil (3 swirls of the pan). Season with a good 3-fingered pinch of salt. Roast cauliflower in heated oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy-edged, about 20-30 minutes. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine quinoa, water or stock and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.

In a large bowl, combine the scallions and dried plums. Add quinoa and allow it’s warmth to soften up the dried fruit. Fold in scallions and cauliflower. Add enough lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil until it tastes good. Delicious eaten warm, room temperature or cold.

Tuscan Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup and Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

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A year or so ago, I read an article by Amanda Hesser on the future of food writing. As someone (clearly) interested in putting my kitchen work into words, I soaked up every morsel of advice. Amongst the facts and figures, one idea stood out: Amanda suggested to, “never eat the same meal twice. If you want to be knowledgeable about food, you need to experience it yourself.” I could not agree more. Whether or not you are a professional or home cook, it’s easy to retreat to your old standby meals. Everyone has one or two up their sleeve, whether it’s an omelet or osso buco. We turn to them for comfort and familiarity. I challenge you this: once you get the hang of a particular dish or recipe, tweak it. Swap out chicken breast for thighs, trade the baby spinach for those long stalks of Swiss chard. It could be as minute as a drizzle of good olive oil, a splash of vinegar. You may be pleased what you discover when you go off course a bit.

Kale, White Bean and Sausage Soup

This soup is one of my go-to meals, particularly as the weather grows colder. Each time it comes out a bit different  – I’ll try a new type of sausage, leafy green or herb combination. Each new version gives me a little more knowledge of flavor.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 bulk hot Italian sausage links, casing removed*
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (from a 15-ounce can or cooked from dry*)
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper, for serving

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until deep golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add onion and carrot to pot with sausage drippings. Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until soft and translucent. You may need to add a bit more oil. Add stock, herbs and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add kale and reduce to heat. Simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes. Add beans and sausage and cook for a few minutes longer to heat through. Remove bay leaf. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh black pepper.

Notes:

You may purchase bulk sausage in casing at the grocery meat counter or in a butcher shop. When I am in the neighborhood, I stock up at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I mean, come on, you have your choice of ‘Classy’ or ‘Trashy’.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

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While I teach others how to make dinner, I rarely sit down for the meal myself. See, when you are in the business of food, you’re usually working during most usual mealtimes. I grew up sitting down to a square, hot meal at 6pm each night, but nowadays, it’s leftovers from the fridge at 9. This is real life.

Last week I found myself home at dinnertime, hungry and with a bit of time to tinker around in the kitchen. Going back out into the world to food shop was just not going to happen. A pantry meal it was.

I recently taught an Ancient Grains class at SLT and everyone was obsessed with the Quinoa Fritters, a recipe riffed from the wonderful Ancient Grains for Modern Mealsl by Maria Speck. Topped with tangy lime mayo and smoked salmon, they were altogether satisfying, the perfect balance of crispy/gooey/cheesy/salty/creamy. I swapped the quinoa for millet, a couscous-like whole grain popular in parts of Asia. You cook it the same way, with a 1:2 ratio of grain to water. It has a mild flavor and a pleasant softness that’s unusual for whole grains. It’s also gluten-free, a nice bonus in this day and age. I’m kind of obsessed.

A plate of these millet fritters with a bowl of spicy, creamy dip was just the thing for my night-in supper. The new square meal.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

Inspired by Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

Fritters:

1 cup millet*
2 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup crumbled cojita cheese (or feta)
1/2 cup flour*
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
2 green onions, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive or grapeseed oil, for cooking

In a medium saucepan, combine the millet and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combined the cooled millet, cheese, flour, chile powder, paprika, green onions and eggs. Fold to combine. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few swirls of olive or grapeseed oil.  Form the millet mixture into patties (I used an ice cream scoop). If the mixture is not sticking together, chill for a bit longer or press the mixture into a ball with your hands. They will be delicate, but will firm up when cooked.

Fry the fritters in the skillet for a few minutes on each side or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Serve with a dollop (or three) of Spicy Lime Crema.

Spicy Lime Crema

1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream, plain yogurt or mayo
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Chipotle hot sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients, adding more of everything to taste.

Notes:

*Where do you buy millet? Check the bulk area or ethnic section. Bob’s Red Mill is another brand worth seeking out.

*I’ve made these with white all-purpose flour and also millet flour (I had some lying around, definitely not necessary to go out and buy it). I suspect almond flour may work, but the mixture may be a little more crumbly. Stick to a somewhat neutral, light flour here – this is not the place for nutty buckwheat or whole wheat flour.

Patron XO Cafe Cupcakes

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I love baking for birthdays. Nothing beats a cake from scratch or batch of cookies. Maybe it’s lingering childhood memories of homemade (never store bought) birthday cakes. I made these simple chocolate cupcakes for my roommate’s birthday in August. The cake is an old recipe from Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, New York. The original did not involve soaking the cake in coffee-flavored tequila (that’s my twist). Patron XO Cafe is a rich, sweet coffee/chocolate liqueur that is the perfect addition to buttercream frosting – it’s just boozy enough to feel worthy of a birthday.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Loosely adapted from Moosewood Restaurant

  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup cold water or coffee
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Patron XO Cafe liqueur

Frosting

Adapted from Magnolia Bakery

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur (I used Patron XO Cafe)
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla  bean paste
  • Pinch Kosher salt

Cupcakes:

Heat oven to 375F. Line a cupcake pan(s) with 12 liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the oil, water or coffee and vanilla. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the vinegar and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter amongst the 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

With a toothpick or skewer, poke a few holes in the top of each cupcake. Using a pastry brush, coat each cupcake with the liqueur. This is called imbibing and it will allow the flavors to really soak into the cupcake.

Frosting:

Beat butter and a few cups of sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the rest of the powdered sugar, alternating with coffee liqueur, until frosting is thick, creamy and fluffy. Take your time with this, you really want to fully incorporate the sugar before adding more. You may not need all the sugar. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt. Transfer to a piping bag with a star tip or frost the cupcakes by hand. You may have extra frosting. It will keep for a few days in the fridge. Just allow it to come to room temperature before using.