Thursday, January 29, 2015

Super Bowl Snacks

I have to admit that I’m not that fired up about the Super Bowl this year. I’m bitter (because my favorite team decided to quit playing in the middle of the championship game and let the other team win.) I’m fed up with unfair play, celebrity worship, and high-profile bad behavior (you can choose from many incidents over the last year or so as an explanation for this one.) And I’m recovering from being sick (again!)

If I was more fired up about the big game, you can bet I’d be researching, testing, and sharing recipes for snacks. I love snacks. I love excuses for snacks. And so, although I don’t have a new snack to share with you today, I’ll give you a list of some of my favorites from The Messy Apron Archives.

Bean Dip with Sour Cream, Salsa and Cheese serve with tortilla chips; see photo above

 Cheddar Jalapeno Cheese Ball if you aren’t into the retro style of the cheese ball, just put this spread in a bowl

Garlic and Herb Vegetable Dip serve with crudité

Green Pea Hummus this one starts with frozen peas and can be made any time of the year; great on pita chips or tortilla chips

Grilled Zucchini and Feta Dip if the weather doesn’t permit firing up the outdoor grill, use a grill pan to give some flavor to the zucchini

Spicy Feta Sauce which is great with Falafel formed into small balls before frying

Spinach and Artichoke Dip put out some chips and get out of the way; this is one of my absolute favorites

I also have a few chili recipes in the archives that might be suitable as part of a football game celebration:


One year ago: Peanut Butter Muffins

Friday, January 23, 2015

Archive Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives

I’ve been approaching much of the cooking I’ve done so far this year a little differently, applying a bit more care and patience in recording recipes, photographing dishes, and, probably most importantly, pronouncing something “just right” (or at least “pretty good”). Something like this bulgur pilaf is inherently simple and became presentable quickly and easily, but not everything goes quite that well. Honestly, I think serious flops are funny, and wouldn’t hesitate to share them, but I’ve been more guilty of pronouncing iffy recipes or lackluster photos “good-enough-and-I-need-to-get-something-posted.” I’d like this space to be more of a well-functioning online cookbook, so, let’s do a little better than that, shall we?

This means that a few culinary adventures, specifically a very good cinnamon swirl raisin bread that needs one more run to see if the dough could be improved with additional liquid, and some delicious vegan chickpea burgers that weren’t quite ready for their close-ups (and I neglected to record how long I fried them) are going to be revisited before making any Messy Apron appearances. But speaking of revisiting, I’m also trying to revisit some old posts, specifically those with bad (bad, bad!) photos or oh, let’s call them “under-tested” recipes. This is great, because I get to cook lots of dishes that I already know are good! And I get to eat them, too!

Recently, I pulled this recipe for Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives out of the archives. When I first posted it almost 5 years ago, I had all kinds of ideas for delicious variations. And in that 5 years, I tried exactly zero of them. While I love variety and I love recipes as variations on a theme, I’m here to tell you that in this case, never getting around to trying those ideas isn’t really such a bad thing. This dish is still delicious as it is!

The cauliflower gets a bit nutty and toasty with roasting while the chickpeas get even nuttier and chewy. The briny olives give a nice, concentrated punch in contrast, complemented by a squeeze of lemon juice applied just before serving. Lots of garlic and some crushed red pepper flakes give even more lovely layers of flavor making this dish amazingly complex for having relatively few ingredients. 

I still think that some other variations could be applied to the basic concept of this recipe. Kalamata olives would be nice. Perhaps some broccoli or broccoli rabe could accompany the cauliflower. Sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers might make good additions. A few sprinkles of smoked paprika could come along for the ride, or sherry vinegar could replace the lemon juice. Instead of serving this with a grain-based side dish, it could be tossed with pasta or stuffed into a pita.

I originally posted this as a vegetable side dish, but I recently served it as part of a vegetarian supper where it was sort of a co-main dish along with Bulgur Pilaf with Almonds and Apricots. Together, the two dishes provide protein, starch, vegetable and fruit (I also had a salad with Maple Walnut Vinaigrette in this meal), and what more do you need to make a real meal? Okay, perhaps a semi-sweet bottle of white wine.

Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

1 medium cauliflower, about 1-1 ¼ pounds, cut into florets
½ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 ½ to 2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained if canned
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup minced parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the cauliflower florets, olives, garlic and chickpeas in a roasting pan.
 2. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to coat well (I used my hands).

3. Bake at 450 F for about 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is beginning to brown. Stir occasionally. The cauliflower will not be completely tender, but will still have a bit of crispness to it.

4. Remove from the oven. Drizzle with lemon juice and add the parsley. Stir to combine well.

Makes about 4 side dish or 2-3 main dish servings.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bulgur Pilaf

I like the idea of a pilaf. By pilaf I mean some bulgur or grains flavored with broth, punched up by herbs or vegetables or fruit. A catch-all side dish to go with lots of meals or a main dish on its own if you like. Pilafs tend to be a bit on the bland side, however, and I’ve always meant to give the recipes I’ve tried more pizazz before talking about them here.

Recently, however, I tried this basic concept just because it is so basic, a bulgur pilaf with almonds and dried apricots. Really, it was the method I wanted to test, a method so simple and easily variable that a busy home cook could memorize it and always be ready to put something pretty good on the table.

This pilaf, like many others, doesn’t have a lot of zing or pow. It’s more or less meant to be a slightly humble accompaniment to dishes with big flavors, or to be jazzed up to suit your tastes as needed. I cooked this one with a rather delicate homemade vegetable broth, and just scallions and fresh parsley for seasoning. You could add stronger herbs or a complex variety, or sprinkle in some spices. I’d also like to try adding a splash of vinegar to brighten the flavors.

I like the idea of a simple bulgur dish on the side when I’m fiddling with other dishes in the meal. Once you boil up some flavorful liquid, or even water, and add it to bulgur, you don’t really need to babysit it. The bulgur just soaks up the liquid, and after about 20 minutes, it’s fluffy and, more importantly, edible. But if the rest of you meal, or the rest of your life, takes you more than that 20 minutes, the bulgur can wait for you to add the rest of the good stuff and reheat it when you’re ready.

I recently served this alongside this roasted cauliflower dish, which has pretty big flavors and requires at least a little bit of attention. The flavors in the pilaf are relatively mild and complemented rather than competed with the other dish. Just what I was looking for. Of course, that doesn’t mean that leftover Bulgur Pilaf with Almonds and Apricots wasn’t delicious on its own in as my lunch later in the week. (It was!)

Bulgur Pilaf with Almonds and Apricots
You could easily use sliced or slivered almonds if you have those on hand.

This recipe can be almost endlessly varied to your taste.

1 ½ cups vegetable stock or broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 cup medium-grain bulgur
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup chopped almonds
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ cup finely chopped scallions
½ cup finely chopped parsley

1. Heat the vegetable stock until boiling. Keep it warm.

2. In a large skillet, preferably one with a tight-fitting lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add the bulgur and toast, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, or just until the bulgur begins to brown. Stir in the apricots and almonds.

3. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the hot vegetable stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover the skillet and let stand off the heat for 20 minutes.

4. After 20 minutes, almost all the liquid should be absorbed. Return the skillet to medium heat and stir in the scallions and parsley. Warm the pilaf just until the parsley and scallions are wilted. Taste for salt and add more if desired.

Makes about 4 side dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Cranberry Walnut Tabbouleh, Quinoa Stuffing

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cranberry Lime Muffins

A paragraph or two describing life lately would be a whining session right now. I’ve been sick for a week (rare for me), and it was the week I was on vacation from work, so I’m not exactly the happiest of campers right now. So, please allow me to reminisce about life a few weeks ago, when I was thinking about leisurely brunches and winter comforts. And cranberry muffins with a hint of lime and a crumbly streusel topping.

Except for the general healthiness of fresh or frozen cranberries, these muffins aren’t exactly typical New Year’s resolution food. There’s plenty of refined sugar and no whole grain flour, but I think you could tinker with the recipe if you want to improve the healthfulness of the recipe. I probably will someday. Maybe.

As they are, they’re delicious. I dug into the archives for the streusel topping recipe I used on these muffins and this coffee cake, then added a bit of lime zest to it. I used the rest of the zest from the lime I had attacked with a microplane grater (my preferred method of acquiring flavorful citrus zest) in the muffin batter itself to give it a bit of lime-y perfume. Of course, there are plenty of tart cranberries in that batter as well, which cut through the sweetness and tender crumb of the muffins.

I don’t mean to be a saboteur of any of your 2015 aspirations with this sweet and delicious recipe. I’m just here for those of you who finally got hungry! Seriously, though, if you’re going to indulge occasionally, you could do a lot worse for yourself than a small cake with cranberries in it. Right?

Lime Scented Cranberry Muffins
Based on recipe in The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

I highly recommend using a microplane grater to remove zest from the lime.

You may have more streusel topping than you need for your muffins. I like the easily-measured proportions in this recipe. I also like to pile on the streusel!

finely grated zest of 1 lime, divided (you will use this for the topping and in the muffin batter)

for the streusel topping:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
pinch fine salt
2 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces

for the muffins:
1 ½ cups chopped fresh (or frozen) cranberries
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
6 tablespoons butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 large egg
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or grease as desired, or line with paper cupcake liners.

2. To make the topping, combine ½ teaspoon lime zest, 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and a pinch of fine salt in a small bowl. Stir together to combine well. Add the cold butter and work into the flour mixture until the butter is in tiny, flour-coated pieces. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (This can be done a day or two ahead.)

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the cranberries and about 2 tablespoons flour. Toss to coat the cranberries, set aside.

4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool slightly.

5. In a large bowl, combine the remaining flour, ¾ cup sugar, baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt. Whisk or sift together to combine. Set aside.

6. Beat the egg in a medium-size bowl. Beat in the cooled, melted butter. Beat in the buttermilk and vanilla. Pour this liquid mixture in the flour mixture. Stir just until most of the flour mixture is moistened. The batter will be thick. Stir in the cranberries.

7. Distribute the batter among the cups of the prepared muffin pan. Squeeze the streusel mixture together to form small clumps. Sprinkle the streusel over the batter in the muffin cups. You may have more streusel than you need, but you can really pile it on if desired.

8. Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

9. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack in the pan for about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on the rack until cool enough to eat. Store in an airtight container for a few days or in the freezer for a month or so. The streusel only remains pleasantly crisp for a few hours after baking, but it’s still good once it gets soft.

Makes 12 muffins.