fresh strawberry glaze

Serve over ice cream, or add to sparkling water or cocktails.

Fresh Strawberry Glaze
Serves 4, over ice cream
Note:  You could use frozen berries, or any other sort of berry, for this topping. I suspect it would also be quite delicious blended, though I served it as-is.

You will need:
1/2 lb. strawberries, hulled and quartered (see note)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until strawberries have released their juices and the glaze is thick and shiny. Serve immediately, spooned over ice cream.


julia child’s sautéed chicken

I love watching old Julia Child tv. One of the many reasons I don’t have cable is because between digital rabbit ears, streaming Netflix, and Redbox, I seldom want for things to watch. My digital antenna offers me three local PBS stations, one of which is all Create, all the time, so I have plenty of opportunities to watch Julia work her magic.

One of the things about her that has inspired me the most, especially in this blog, is how she approached kitchen mishaps. I’ve seen her turn out an apple tarte tatin, only to find that some of the apples stuck to the skillet. She plucks them from the pan not at all gingerly, arranges them on the cake about where they should go, and serves the dessert with a flourish. When she trusses a chicken, she messily manhandles that poor bird until it submits to her will. There is no “action cam” to distract from the cooking in her shows, unlike in so many others. She demonstrates that real cooking is messy and will get your hands dirty, and can be fraught with peril, but shows how rewarding it is when the roasted chicken comes out just right, when the tarte tatin is sliced and served.

With only two people in my house, serving a whole roast chicken on a regular basis is just not going to happen. I could use the leftovers to make stock, but I won’t. I could slice leftover breast meat to put on nachos or in risotto, but I seldom do. Instead of “saving” (read: wasting) leftovers, I adapted the method she uses to sauté the pieces of a whole fryer chicken to work with a meal for two, and the results never fail to astonish me. Served alongside roasted potatoes and some sort of green, it’s a simple, no-fuss weeknight meal with a touch of fancy to it.

Incidentally, if you’ve never watched Julia cook, I highly recommend it. She’s dry and hilarious, messy as can be, and a real pleasure to watch. And you just might learn something.

Julia Child’s Sautéed Chicken
Adapted from the insert to The Way to Cook DVD
Serves 2, but is easily expanded to serve more
Seasoning suggestions: I’ve had a lot of success with a basic herbs de provence mix. An Italian seasoning mix is also nice, as is chicken fajita seasoning if you’d like a South of the border taste. Salt and pepper alone work wonders and keep it simple, but feel free to experiment and see what you like.

You will need:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
2-3 chicken thighs, depending on the appetites in your house
Salt and pepper
Your choice of seasoning

Heat the oil and butter in a cast-iron skillet on medium heat until the oil shimmers and the butter is completely melted.

Wash and dry the chicken thighs, and season both sides with salt and pepper. Place the thighs, skin side down, in the skillet and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, about 5 minutes. (The pan-shaking keeps the chicken from sticking.) Flip the chicken and cook, shaking again, another 5 minutes. Cover the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes more.

Use Julia’s method to check for doneness: When you press the thickest part of the thigh with your finger, it should be tender. Also, if you prick the thigh with a fork, the juices should run clear.

Plate and serve immediately.

Image via Amazon.

summer drinks: gin and tonic

When we were 21 (or thereabouts. Ahem.), my college roommate and I discovered the wonders of Hypnotinis. If memory serves, the Hypnotini was a drink made from Hypnotic, that always classy electric blue liqueur, mixed with pineapple juice and vodka. We generally kept the Smurf-like bottle in the house at all times, and were known to mix quick drinks before going out, tote the bottle and the other ingredients to parties, or just wind down with one at the end of a long week.

We were so cool.

One of the local martini bars made their version, as well as a lip-smacking, jolly rancher-esque Appletini. I never was able to get on board with the Chocolatini, which somehow tasted too strong. But the citrus-based ‘tinis did it for me every time. This bar, which opened during our senior year, became the new “the” place to go on a Thursday night to feel sophisticated and special. You sat at the bar, a cute bartender flirted with you, and then you sipped your drink out of a tall, shapely glass while you contemplated your next order, each possibility sounding more adventurous than the next. I think we imagined ourselves as if we were being photographed for a teen magazine, or were playing at what adulthood cocktail hours would be like. At the very least, we pretended to be our very own Sex and the City (or rather, Sex and the Small College Town).

In my old age (ha), I tend to keep things more simple. I’m more likely to have a Hefeweizen than a cocktail, and when I do have a mixed drink, nine times out of ten it’s a margarita. But in the summer, few beverages are more refreshing and invigorating to me than a gin and tonic. Served in a shatterproof glass by the pool, on a wrought-iron patio table while someone grills steaks, or in my scratched, cloudy tumblers, it’s a breeze to make and it cools me down. Put away the Hypnotiq, grab a bottle of good gin and some limes, and try it.

Gin and Tonic
Serves 1

1 oz. gin
Tonic water
Juice of 1 lime, plus a wedge for garnish

Fill a tumbler with ice. Pour in gin, top with tonic water, and squeeze in lime juice. Swizzle, garnish, serve.

chocolate butterscotch chip cookies

These cookies are like crack.

These cookies, once baked, are impossible to eat individually. You can try, and I’m sure it would be a valiant effort, but you will fail. You will go back for “just one more” so many times, you’ll lose count. I love a good chocolate chip cookie as much as the next girl, but this butterscotch… I may never make regular chocolate chip cookies again. I’ve seen the light; I’ve converted; I’ve been shown the way. The yellow brick road is actually made of butterscotch.

I can think of a million reasons to make these cookies. I made them to thank someone who watched my cats when I was out of town. I took a dozen or so with me that weekend, and my mother, sister, and I demolished them in an evening of homemade pizza, cupcakes, and queso. I still had some left when I got home, so I finished the rest with as much self-control as I could muster while I hosted my own one-woman Sex and the City marathon. You can make them for an office party, a picnic, a birthday gift, a night in with the girls, or when you’re feeling the teeniest bit gluttonous.

Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes bout 4 dozen cookies; serves 1-48.

You will need:
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. (2 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar (Martha uses dark, all I had was light. Use what you have.)
2 eggs
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream butter with both sugars until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, and vanilla, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.

Stir in chips. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 2″ apart. Bake in batches until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Watch carefully, and remove from oven just before they look done. Let them set for a minute on the cookie sheet, then remove to cool on a wire rack. In my experience, they keep for five days in an airtight container.

italian meat and asparagus pizza

Asparagus and I are on a roll lately. Every time I head into the grocery store, bundles of asparagus are neatly tied up in ice baths, on sale, waiting to be taken home. They’re like small green stalk-y puppies, begging me to cook them. I can’t help but oblige.

I’ve put asparagus in risotto, served it over pasta, and alongside roast chicken. I wanted to do something nontraditional with my new love, though, so I channeled my favorite pizza parlor and thought outside the box. Asparagus on pizza? Who’d have thought. (Mom, you can stop reading now.)

I once had a pizza topped with bacon, jalapenos, and asparagus, and it was maybe the best and most interesting pizza I’ve ever tasted. That and a crispy crust and simple sauce, and lots of parmesan cheese, made me a happy pizza camper. Pioneer Woman’s trusty pizza crust recipe at my side, and I set out to replicate this tiny piece of asparagus heaven. Trust me, be adventurous and enjoy. (Also, Eric? You were totally right about the perfect pizza sauce: crushed tomatoes only.)

Italian Meat and Asparagus Pizza
Serves 2

You will need:
1/2 recipe Pioneer Woman’s pizza crust
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
Various italian meats (I used deli pepperoni, a spicy salami, and some leftover prosciutto. Use enough to make one layer on top of the cheese.)
8 spears asparagus, roasted and cut into 2″ lengths
Sliced fresh jalapeño (optional)

Prepare pizza crust according to directions.

Preheat oven to 450. Using half the dough, spread evenly onto a 15 x 10 baking sheet. Spread olive oil over crust; top with crushed tomatoes, salt, and pepper.

Top with cheese, in an even layer. Lay sliced meats over mozzarella, in an even layer. Top meats with asparagus and jalapeño slices.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until crust is golden brown, cheese is melted, and jalapeños are cooked through. Top with parmesan cheese, if desired, and serve immediately.

spring risotto with lemon

The three weeks of spring are nearly over.

In Texas, three weeks is about all we get. Temperature climb from the 50s to the 90s in a one-month period; the transition from winter to summer is abrupt and cruel. It’s only for a few days that we can run around comfortably in jeans and t-shirts. Soon, the jeans will be too warm and will give way to shorts and skirts; a few weeks ago, one needed a jacket to maintain an ambient body temperature.

Still, to celebrate this fleeting spring, I offer you risotto. While the method I recommend does require a little “slaving over a hot stove,” temperatures are cool enough and the veggies are bright enough that that shouldn’t bother you too much. This dish, while a little time-consuming, is actually very simple to make and difficult to mess up. The spring vegetables add fun color to what can otherwise be a disturbingly beige dish, and the lemon tastes so fresh that you wonder why you don’t slave over a hot stove to make this every day.

A note: Do you know the proper way to store asparagus? I did not, and lamented that my asparagus in the crisper would always turn woody and tough as soon as I bought it. I learned, though, that asparagus should be stored like cut flowers: in a glass of water, with the stems cut every day or so. This keeps the asparagus fresh. I keep it on the counter, but storing it in the fridge works fine, too.

Spring Risotto with Lemon
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 2

You will need:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. risotto or arborio rice
Approximately 4 cups chicken broth (you may substitute some of this with water, wine, or beer)
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” lengths
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat the broth in a saucepan until it simmers, but do not burn.

Heat the oil in a separate saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and saute until tender, about ten minutes (but do not burn). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about thirty seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the edges of the grains are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, spread the asparagus lengths onto a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 for about 15 minutes. Set aside.

If using, add up to 1 cup wine or beer. Stir constantly until the liquid is absorbed.

Add broth in 1/2 cup increments, stirring until the liquid is absorbed and adding more liquid. Repeat this process for about half an hour, tasting for doneness. (The rice should be al dente.) Add the peas and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and the lemon and stir. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if needed.

Serve immediately, topped with parmesan cheese. Happy Spring.

challah french toast

Sometimes all it takes to reinvigorate an old standard is to slightly alter the standard ingredients it’s usually made with. Using pecorino instead of parmesan cheese, for example, will yield a shaper, saltier, nuttier flavor. Adding olives to a tomato sauce adds a depth and sourness to the sauce that, for me, marries well with the sweetness of the tomatoes. Using goat cheese instead of mayonnaise or mustard on a sandwich instantly elevates what is (for me) usually a dull, last-resort meal.

For French toast, a simple bread substitution can make a huge difference. I grew up using the standard, plastic-bag Wonder bread for French toast. As I got older, I started making French toast with a wheat bread made at my local grocery store. Most recently, I served a batch of French toast made with sweet, eggy challah to a group of friends, wanting to replicate the challah French toast served with orange-cranberry butter on a cool November New York morning several years ago.

My French toast, though made with the same bread, was nothing so fancy. It was served on the coffee table as my friends sat on the floor, coaxing the cats to come out and play. (The mean one couldn’t get enough, and the sweet one was too shy.) The bacon burned, because my boyfriend left me in charge of it without telling me, since I was over the stove anyway and despite the fact that I prefer my bacon burned and he, you know, doesn’t. My 4-cup coffee maker only actually makes about 2.5 human-sized cups, so this group of five kept refilling the basket with fresh grounds and running the machine again. The syrup, warmed on the stove, was served out of a plastic measuring cup (being the only thing with a spout and thus the only thing with a reasonable shot at not getting syrup all over the white carpet) (not that spilling on the carpet matters to me, as I spill coffee on it once a week, and am still not old enough for carpet).

The French toast I made with humble Wonder bread on Saturday mornings with my stepfather is not elevated by fancier bread, though it was tender and sweeter. I wonder how much the richer, eggier, sweeter, more sophisticated taste of the soaked fried bread came from the fact that I was making it for others. For someone who loves to cook, I entertain rarely. When I do, I prefer to serve chips and salsa while Handsome mans the grill. Standing in my kitchen, with friends all around me, I felt vulnerable and appreciated all at once. In a room full of people who love me, I was happy I’d served my stepdad’s French toast with challah, but knew I could have served it with Wonder bread and they would have reacted the same way.

Challah French Toast
A riff on my own French toast
Serves 5
Note: I do not measure when I make French toast. My stepdad never did, either. All measurements are approximate and should be customized to suit your own taste, and to better impress your friends (who don’t need impressing).

You will need:

1 loaf of challah bread, or other eggy bread, sliced
7-9 eggs, depending on how absorbent your bread is
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Butter, for the skillet

Heat skillet on medium-high heat, and melt butter. (It’s perfectly acceptable if the butter browns.)

Meanwhile, whisk eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Soak one slice of bread at a time on both sides, and put the egg-soaked bread in the hot buttered skillet. Cook about three minutes on one side, or until golden brown, then flip and repeat on other side.

Serve immediately with warmed syrup, or keep warm in the oven until the bacon is finished burning.