Kale salad with with cherries and pecans (almonds), rushed pizza dough, eggplant and three cheese calzone

Kale salad with with cherries and pecans (almonds), rushed pizza dough, eggplant and three cheese calzone

Our friend Andrea came over for dinner recently, and she requested the kale salad and the eggplant and three cheese calzone from the smitten kitchen cookbook project! It was a successful evening of good food and good conversation.

Kale salad with cherries and pecans: I completely forgot to get pecans at the store, so I polled my dinnermates and asked if they preferred almonds or walnuts as a replacement, and almonds were chosen. Also, I didn’t realize that I was out of honey, so I had to substitute light agave for the honey in the salad dressing. Both turned out to be worthy substitutes, as the salad was super tasty and satisfying.

What worked: Everything! This was a super easy and lovely accompaniment to our overall dinner. I’m sure this salad would be great as a main dish as well. I’ve never been known to choose a honey mustard-type dressing, but this dressing was perfectly balanced. I would definitely make sure to follow Deb’s suggestion to dress the salad and then let it sit for 20 minutes before eating – I dressed the salad once I put the calzone in the oven, so the timing was perfect.

What didn’t work: Nothing wrong here!

Would I make it again?: Absolutely!

Rushed pizza dough: I had been planning to make the leisurely pizza dough before I left for work that morning, but then I forgot. That is my story.

What worked: This dough was tasty and worked perfectly for the three cheese and eggplant calzone.

What didn’t work: After mixing the ingredients together based on the recipe proportions, my dough definitely did not have enough liquid, and would not come together enough to knead. I added an additional splash of water, and all was well. Also, the dough definitely had not doubled in size after 30 minutes of rising time, and still had not quite doubled an additional 30 minutes after that. As a result, the dough took a little extra time to roll out – I had to take a couple of brief breaks to let the dough rest before rolling to the directed size. However, as noted above, the end result was really tasty.

Would I make it again?: Yes. I want to see if I have the same rising issues, and also wanted to try as the base for an actual pizza and see how it goes.

Eggplant and three cheese calzone: My husband and I both don’t especially like eggplant, finding it too fleshy and strange, especially when not prepared well – so I was a little skeptical about this one. Having said that, the preparation of the eggplant for this recipe (roasting before adding to the calzone) was perfect, and this calzone was just delicious.

What worked: As noted above, roasting the eggplant beforehand proved to be a genius move. The eggplant and the cheese melded together amazingly, and the simple tomato sauce prepared separately and served as a condiment to the calzone (as opposed to baked into the calzone) proved to be a perfect accompaniment.

What didn’t work: For the tomato sauce piece of the recipe, I interpreted “strained tomatoes” as whole peeled canned tomatoes, strained of any extra sauce, but this turned out to be incorrect. After simmering and crushing a bit with a fork, the tomatoes were still whole, so I pureed the mixture with my immersion blender, and all was well. I still don’t really know what “strained tomatoes” means though.

Would I make it again?: Most definitely, especially to feed multiple people easily!

Baked ranchero eggs with blistered jack cheese and lime crema

Baked ranchero eggs with blistered jack cheese and lime crema

From the “Breakfast” section: We had some friends over for brunch yesterday before the Farewell Futurama event for SF Sketchfest 2014 (which was awesome, by the way). I went back and forth over serving the cinnamon toast french toast vs. the baked ranchero eggs, and ultimately went for the savory option. I also made sour cream biscuits (highly recommended) and Jeffrey made bacon. All in all, a very tasty brunch. Deb notes in the recipe that 12 eggs might seem like a lot, but five people managed to eat all but one serving – so I wouldn’t worry about the serving size.

What worked: Everything about this recipe was easy and straightforward. I successfully used an immersion blender (since I don’t have a regular one) for the tomato sauce, and added more cheese, because why not. I wasn’t able to find crema mexicana at my local Whole Foods, but as Deb mentions, sour cream was just fine as a substitute. This recipe is pretty ideal for when you have guests coming over: the sauce and garnishes can be prepped in advance, and then you can easily do the rest as everyone arrives and is ready to eat. The homemade tortilla strips are an especially brilliant inclusion – super easy and super tasty.

What didn’t work: I was a little skeptical about the instructions for simmering the sauce before adding the eggs – the note said to only simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened. I worried that this would result in an overly soupy mixture, so I simmered the sauce for an extra 10 minutes or so, and I thought the texture of the sauce was perfect. The eggs were also slightly overcooked, but this was the fault of me and my annoyingly uneven electric stovetop.

Would I make it again?: Yes, especially when we have guests. And I think it would be just as good for a lunch or dinner dish.

Broccoli slaw

Broccoli slaw from the smitten kitchen cookbook

From the “Salads” section: the second item made for the smitten kitchen cookbook project was also brought to the same friend’s house along with the egg and chicken salad! This broccoli slaw is super easy and was a big hit all around.

What worked: Here’s where I admit that I’m not a huge mayonnaise fan. I never have been. Having said that, I liked this broccoli slaw a lot, despite mayo, since I’m a huge fan of every other ingredient in the recipe (broccoli, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, etc.).

What didn’t work: Not applicable.

Would I make it again?: Most likely, since I’d like to see if I can use greek yogurt instead of the mayo with equal success.

Chicken and egg salad toasts with lemon aioli and fennel

Chicken and egg salad toasts from the smitten kitchen cookbook

From “Sandwiches, Tarts, and Pizzas” in the smitten kitchen cookbook project – I made this chicken and egg salad with lemon aioli and fennel this past Sunday to bring to a friend’s house to enjoy while watching the Golden Globes. This was my first time making aioli! And lo and behold, it was a success, and my arm didn’t fall off from all the whisking.

What worked: This was really tasty and fairly easy! I tend to stay away from recipes that call for either having leftover cooked chicken or for having to prepare chicken separately ahead of time – mostly because I a) don’t often keep very much meat in the house, let alone enough to have some left over, and b) cooking the meat separately seems a little tedious to me (I’m not sure why). But I didn’t really mind in this instance, especially since the recipe includes instructions for both options, and it took only a brief amount of time to cook the chicken and let cool before mixing with the other ingredients. Otherwise, the most cumbersome step of this recipe was the aioli – but I asked my husband to help slowly pour in the olive oil while I patiently whisked away, which was very helpful. If you can get through that step, the rest is easy-peasy.

What didn’t work: I’ve read the recipe front and back several times, and I cannot for the life of me find the step where I’m supposed to add the hard-boiled eggs after they’d cooked and cooled. The recipe tells you how to cook them, but then never actually says to chop them up and mix them in with the rest of the ingredients. I figured that part out, obviously – it’s not exactly a difficult step, which is probably why it was overlooked in the first place.

Would I make it again?: I think so, yes – especially as a dish to bring to a potluck or something along those lines, since the dish can be assembled ahead of time and travels well.

smitten kitchen Cookbook Project: What I’ve Already Made

Apple cider caramels from the smitten kitchen cookbook

As my first post for the smitten kitchen cookbook project, I thought I would do a quick recap of the items I’ve already made from the cookbook.

- Leisurely pizza dough: I threw the dough together in the morning and let it rise slowly in the fridge while I was at work, as instructed. However, I had suspected that the yeast stored in the back of my freezer was no longer up to the task, and when I got home, my suspicions were confirmed, as the dough had not risen at all. The pizza still came out okay, but I plan on trying this recipe again for one of the pizza recipes to see how it goes.

What worked: The overall taste was good, the dough comes together easily, and the method of letting the dough rise throughout the day is really convenient.

What didn’t work: As mentioned, the dough didn’t rise, but I’m pretty sure that’s due to bad ingredients.

Would I make it again?: I certainly will!

- Slow cooker black bean ragout: The beans came out great – super flavorful, and super easy to throw together. This recipe actually serves as a good base for cooking beans in general, i.e. the proportions of aromatics, spices, and acid. I didn’t eat the beans with the pickled red onions or garlicky toast as in the recipe, however, so there’s a good chance I’ll try this again with both of those items as well.

What worked: Everything! This was simple and tasty, and the beans make great leftovers as well.

What didn’t work: Not applicable.

Would I make it again?: Yep!

- Tomato-glazed meatloaves with brown butter mashed potatoes: I made the meatloaves when we had some friends over for dinner but omitted the mashed potatoes – I can’t remember why I chose to do that, but oh well. Since you can’t go wrong with brown butter, this dish will have to happen again in all its glory.

What worked: Pretty much everything.

What didn’t work: It felt like there was a little bit of excess water in the baking dish when the loaves were done, but I can’t remember if that was a flaw or not.

Would I make it again?: I will! Gotta try those mashed potatoes!

- Buttered popcorn cookies: These cookies are just fantastic. So creative, and a perfect blend of sweet and salty. The combination seems strange at first, but trust me, it works. My friend described the cookies as “weird . . . in a good way.”

What worked: Everything – even folding the popcorn into the cookie mixture was easier than I thought it would be.

What didn’t work: While these cookies are fantastic, they aren’t quite as fantastic the next day, as the popcorn tastes just a tad bit stale after a day.

Would I make it again?: Absolutely!

- Gooey cinnamon squares: So delicious! I brought them to a party and they were devoured.

What worked: Easy to make and easy to enjoy.

What didn’t work: I recall the second layer being just a little difficult to spread onto the first – not a huge issue overall.

Would I make it again?: Heck yes!

- Chocolate silk pie: An amazingly indulgent pie that’s actually really satisfying to make – you get to spend some solid time whipping up butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate together until they become a delicious filling for a beautiful pie.

What worked: Everything!

What didn’t work: Nothing – just make sure you give the pie plenty of time to set in the fridge before serving.

Would I make it again?: Yes, especially for chocolate lovers!

- S’more layer cake: One of the best cakes I’ve ever made. Using ground up graham crackers in the cake mix is genius, and the marshmallow frosting is fun and brings the cake together perfectly.

What worked: The cake layers had a wonderful, delicate graham cracker-y flavor, and the frosting was nice and light (not a typical heavy buttercream).

What didn’t work: The milk chocolate ganache was delicious, but didn’t become as thick as expected, and therefore leaked out the sides of the cake when I assembled the layers. I suspect this was user error, however – that I didn’t give the ganache enough time to cool and thicken up.

Would I make it again?: 100% yes

- Apple cider caramels (pictured above): If I were to only make one caramel recipe for the rest of my life, this would be it. The cider taste is prominent and pairs beautifully with the buttery caramel flavor, and the flaky sea salt added at the end provides a perfect balance. Just amazing. The recipe can be found on the smitten kitchen website as well as the book.

What worked: Everything – making caramels might seem intimidating, but it’s really not difficult, it just takes time (and a candy thermometer is very helpful).

What didn’t work: This is, again, more of a user error. I’ve made these caramels twice, and the first time, I took the caramel off the stove too early. It had been cooking for longer than described in the recipe and still wasn’t up to the correct temperature, so I was worried that there was something wrong with my thermometer. As a result, the caramels were too soft. The second time I tried the recipe, I made sure to let the caramel reach the listed temperature, and the end result was perfect.

Would I make it again?: Again and again and again

Breakfast smoothies

Kale-mango-pineapple-coconut smoothie

Smoothies have dominated my breakfast landscape for the past few months. They’re delicious, and oh hey, they’re also extremely healthy and help to fulfill that pesky fruit/veggie daily requirement.

Inspiration for smoothies: the almighty Alton Brown and his tips for breakfast smoothies from Live and Let Diet.

Here’s what I use for my smoothies:

  • Immersion blender, and the handy 2-cup plastic beaker that comes with it. I imagine a blender or a food processor would work just as well.
  • Frozen bananas. As per Alton Brown, I buy big bunches of bananas (the riper the better), and let them ripen for a bit longer in my produce bowl before peeling, transferring to a large resealable freezer bag, and tossing in the freezer.
  • Additional rotation of frozen fruit. I tend to favor mixed berries, mango, and pineapple.
  • Leafy greens, i.e. spinach or kale.
  • Non-dairy milk, usually almond.

Here’s how I make them. If I’m responsible and planning ahead, I do this before I go to bed and place the filled beaker in the fridge, then blend in the morning. Lately I’ve been lazy, however, and fill the beaker in the morning, pop in the microwave for 1 minute, then blend. The night before method is preferable, however.

  • Fill 2-cup plastic beaker with 1 cup of non-dairy milk.
  • Break 1 frozen banana in half, and add to beaker.
  • Add roughly 1 cup of spinach or kale leaves, stuffing down to the bottom of the beaker.
  • Add additional frozen fruit to top (usually between 1/2 and 1 cup, depending).
  • Optional: add 1 tablespoon of almond or peanut butter. I haven’t been doing this lately, but it does help boost the protein/flavor content.
  • Blend and drink.

Most days, I use 1 cup of almond milk, one banana, some spinach, a few chunks of mango or pineapple, then a small handful of mixed berries. Today, however, was extra special. I started with 1/4 cup of coconut milk (we had some left over after making soup last night), then added 1/4 cup of almond milk and 1/2 cup of water (since full-fat coconut milk is so rich). From there, leftover kale was added, as well as both mango and pineapple. It was both delicious and visually pleasing (see photo).

Banana/applesauce granola

Banana/applesauce granola

Homemade granola, mixed with yogurt, is a wonderful thing. It’s delicious, filling, and so easy to make. However, while many granola recipes are technically healthy, they’re not exactly light, due to the use of oil and sweeteners. I recently saw this recipe that used pureed banana, and saw an opportunity.

I decided to use applesauce as well, for additional moisture and sweetness. This recipe definitely tastes of banana, and (if you like banana), this is a good thing – almost like banana bread in granola form.

Feel free to use any combination of nuts and dried fruit for this! Pecans and dried cherries would be particularly lovely, I think. Also, this was a very wet mixture – 2 bananas might have been a bit too much, but the end result was still quite good.

Banana/applesauce granola

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 – 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2 bananas, very ripe*
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used apricots)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients (oats through salt) in a medium/large bowl. Set aside. In a separate container, puree the bananas, applesauce, and vanilla extract together until blended and smooth (I used my immersion blender).

Add the banana/applesauce mixture to the dry mixture and stir to combine (the mixture will be thick). Spread the mixture into a rimmed baking sheet or casserole pan (preferably spritzed with cooking spray).

Bake the granola in 15 minutes increments, stirring after each, until it reaches the desired toastiness and texture. Stir in the chopped fruit for the last 10 minutes or so of baking.

* If you only have not-very-ripe bananas, you can roast them first and they’ll be perfect. Roast the whole banana(s), peels on and everything, on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, then remove and let cool. The peels will be completely blackened and the bananas will be very soft.