Caprese Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Burrata

IMG_4809When I went to Capri in April of 2008, I trekked up the steep hills to a trattoria for lunch after a morning of taking in the vistas. I was so excited to have a Caprese Salad in the birthplace of Caprese Salads. Imagine my disappointment when the waiter brought us green, far from ripe tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Then it hit me. The seasons.  IMG_4788Seasonal eating was such a novel concept to me as an American – everything’s available all year round, and the whole conscious foodie thing hadn’t really come into full swing at that time. So, what I had imagined was a plate of luscious, bursting at the seams red tomatoes with buttery mozzarella and verdant basil. What I got was lackluster citrus with less than memorable accompaniments. If I had only come in the summer!IMG_4792Fast forward a few years and now I know that even the most lame tomatoes can be made dynamite by a long, sweet roast in the oven. It’s precisely what’s required of the tomatoes I’ve seen so far this season. Mild summer temperatures means mediocre sweetness and acidity (I think). So I topped regular grocery store tomatoes with sugar, salt, black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They reach a flavor complexity that rivals the most pungent pickles. Sweet, tangy and savory, it balances the mild, creamy addition of burrata.  IMG_4798Burrata, if you’ve never had it, is cream filled mozzarella. On top of pizza, it makes for the creamiest cheese topping. I wanted to try it on this salad, but freaked out once I tried picking it up from its solution and found it to be so soft, it immediately started running all over the board. And then when you cut into it, it’s even more of a mess! I grabbed a bunch of paper towels and started wiping up the mess and I thought this dish was doomed for sure. But when I started picking up the squares (or blobs) I had cut from the ball of burrata, I appreciated the rustic appearance. It certainly wouldn’t work with raw slices of tomatoes. The whole aesthetic of the traditional Caprese Salad relies on the symmetry of the tomatoes and mozzarella. But with the warped form of the tomatoes from the heat of the oven, it worked well. IMG_4800I didn’t drizzle additional olive oil atop since I felt the burrata had plenty fat content. A sprinkling of cracked pepper and hand torn basil was the perfect adornment. Hopefully your basil is fresh and not the last scraps you could salvage from your (read: my) week-old bunch.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 beefsteak tomatoes, depending on the size (I used 3 in the pictures above)
  • 1-2 tsps sugar
  • 3-4 tbsps olive oil
  • 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 8 oz ball of burrata
  • 4 to 6 basil leaves, torn

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Slice 2 tomatoes between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in thickness (see pictures). Arrange slices on baking sheet lined with parchment and season liberally with salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper). Lightly sprinkle tops with 1 tsp sugar, 2 tbsps olive oil and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar*. Use a pastry brush or your hands to smooth out all the seasonings. Bake in preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before removing to serving platter. Repeat Step 2 with fresh parchment paper and second batch of tomato(es).
  4. Arrange tomatoes on platter, overlapping them slightly. Remove burrata from solution and place on cutting board. With a SHARP knife, slice the burrata into 1/2 cubes (as shown above). Top the roasted tomato slices with the burrata pieces. Sprinkle the tops with black pepper and torn basil.

*Cook’s note: I ran out of balsamic vinegar and instead used a balsamic reduction that you can see me brushing onto the tomatoes in one of the pictures. If you find yourself in the same conundrum, simply leave out the balsamic in the initial seasoning. Forty minutes in to the cooking process, brush your balsamic reduction onto the tomatoes and stick back in the oven for 5 minutes.

Pistachio and Spice Roasted Rack of Lamb

IMG_4736Ramadan, the Islamic month during which Muslims around the world fast from sun up to sun down, is winding down. The last ten days is a time of great spiritual importance. Extra prayers, remembrance and mindfulness of acts of worship are highly stressed. My interpretation is that it’s a way to encourage keeping up the momentum, since Ramadan is 30 days long, and many start off the month with a lot of vigor, but find themselves struggling to keep up with the extra prayers and fasts as the days go by. IMG_4723Another important part of Ramadan for me is the communal iftar (evening, break-fast meal). One of the things that drew me to Islam as a child and again as a college student, is the community. When I attended my first ICNA convention as an almost 10 year old, I wore the headscarf for the weekend, per etiquette. And I recall descending on the escalator to the main convention hall and being amazed at seeing so many Muslims in the same room. For the first time I felt like I was part of something larger. Growing up in Queens, my childhood was characterized by my otherness. I was always one of two Bengali Muslim kids (no black, white, arab, SE asian or any other muslim kids in my neighborhood). We were all a rag tag team of immigrant kids – the only cohesive element being our physical classroom or schoolyard. IMG_4726So when I first felt that sense of community, it was exhilarating. I kept the headscarf on (with its ups and downs) since then. This was reinforced as a student at Barnard. The iftars hosted by Columbia Muslim Students Association was another reinforcement. A group to whom I didn’t have to explain my evening ritual of breaking the fast. A group that actually shared the values I was brought up with. IMG_4730I know we live in a society that in name celebrates individuality and uniqueness. But growing up in a society that is so different from your native one, is exhausting. How many times have I had to answer the question

  • Can your husband or father see your hair?
  • Do you sleep with the scarf of your head?
  • Do you shower with it? (admittedly this was a much rarer question, asked by the not-so-high scorers in my junior high class)
  • You can’t even have water while fasting?

IMG_4731So while I celebrate multiculturalism and pluralism as much as the next person, and in fact I think I’m the better for my experiences, it is really fortifying to be with members of one’s own group. That’s why I love hosting iftar. Why I love ending a long day of fasting with people I love. With food I love. In remembrance of our common purpose of pleasing our Creator. IMG_4732On to the food! This was actually the first time I’ve made rack of lamb. I took a risk by making something for the first time for a group and not even sticking to a recipe, but using a spice rub recipe by Deb Perelman and a cooking technique by Ina Garten. The spice rub recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. She uses it to encrust individual lamb chops and after an initial sear on the stove top, then finishes it in the oven (I’ve made it before here). As for Ina’s rack of lamb recipe, she does a traditional rosemary/garlic combo, then roasts the whole thing in the oven at 450 degrees F for 20-25 min. IMG_4733I smeared the spice rub on and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before sticking it in the hot oven to allow the flavors of the spices to get into the lamb. I then roasted it covered for 15 minutes. After 15 min, I removed the foil, drizzled some olive oil and allowed to cook for 15 minutes longer. This got it to medium rare. If you’d like it done further, insert a meat thermometer into a good meaty portion of the meat and cook until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F for medium or 170 for well done. IMG_4734The lamb was from Honest Chops over in East Village. Perfect flavor every single time. IMG_4737I made Kabuli palau for the first time – and Afghani chicken and rice pilaf with carrots, raisins and nuts. Homemade naan. Roasted tomato and burrata Caprese salad (why aren’t there good tomatoes in the farmers markets yet?? Perhaps because it hasn’t been hot enough). Mashed potatoes. Watermelon/mint salad because Ramadan and watermelon go together like two peas in a pod. Pioneer Woman’s Kale Citrus Salad and Strawberry Lemonade. My only edit to the lemonade was that I made a Meyer lemon infused simple syrup with two cups of the sugar, 2 cups water, and the peel of 1 large Meyer lemon. Divine. IMG_4740My mom made cumber raita (yogurt, grated cucumber, smoked salt) and savory pancakes. My good friend Nargis made delicious boulani, a potato stuffed turnover. And because iftar is an evening meal, this was the best lighting I could capture for my photos. Wishing a blessed last few days of Ramadan to those observing!

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Ina Garten.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • 3 tsps chaat masala
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 4-5 dashes of cayenne pepper (stick to 2 dashes if you can’t handle heat!)
  • 5-6 pounds rack of lamb
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Directions

  1. Add first 5 ingredients to the food processor and process until pistachios are ground and spices are well blended.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum. Take lamb out of fridge and remove any impurities from the surface, rinsing under running water if necessary. Place on baking sheet, fat side up, and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper all over the meat. Rub spice mixture onto the fat side and let sit for 1 hour.
  3. After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  4. Once the oven is hot, drizzle lamb with olive oil and cover meat with foil and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the foil  and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Cook longer, if desired, with a meat thermometer inserted into the meat reads 160 for medium or 170 for well done.
  5. Take out of oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with yogurt dipping sauce.

A Red Velvet and A Double Chocolate Cake

IMG_4601IMG_4548Marriage is a most beautiful thing. Take for example the marriage of a hot dog to its bun. Mustard to a knish. Or in this case, the best cake recipe with the most glorious frosting.IMG_4549Oh, you thought I was referring to the marriage between two people? No, no, no – that’s a completely different story. It’s tumultuous. A dichotomy of opposing egos – it’s as generous as it is demanding. Like a cake studded with ghost peppers. You can figure out ways to maneuver around them, develop techniques over the years to handle them, but you’re inevitably going to chomp down one and when you do, you might find yourself questioning the decision to go for that slice of cake.IMG_4556But you go on anyway, running around with your head ablaze because darn it you committed to this slice of cake! And the heat dies down and you’re left with a smear of frosting on your plate that you scoop up and wonder, “Gosh this is so delightful, whatever was all that fuss about?”. That’s married life for ya.

IMG_4558 IMG_4559

People go bananas for red velvet, and personally, I’ve never understood why. Always made with a smidge of chocolate – the base cake isn’t strongly flavored enough. I opted for a recipe that has more cocoa than the usual red velvet recipe (3 tbsp vs 1 tsp) but not so much that it’s more of a chocolate cake (one recipe called for 1/3 cup cocoa!). It’s often topped with a tangy/sweet cream cheese frosting, though delicious, is better served with a sweeter cake, like banana or carrot cake. I feel like it’s striking, contrasting colors that people fall for. Also, a very tender cake made by the addition of buttermilk AND vinegar.

I wanted to try the original cooked milk/flour frosting recipe that accompanies red velvet. But as my hectic week dwindled down, all I had the energy for was whipping up two bars of Philly with a healthy stick of butter and calling it a day. I also experimented with the food coloring – since I used a gel food coloring, which is typically more pigmented than the usual food coloring. I used a rounded teaspoon rather than the tablespoon of food coloring that the recipe called for. In hindsight, I probably could have used more to offset the cocoa. Taste-wise – no complaints. IMG_4564

The second cake was for an acquaintance’s farewell party. I used my all time favorite chocolate cake recipe (Beatty’s) but with a no fuss frosting (Hershey’s perfectly chocolate frosting). I came upon this particular frosting recipe after looking for an alternative to the buttercream Ina Garten uses to accompany this cake (it has a raw egg yolk and I have two young’ns). What I love about this recipe is

  1. It uses cocoa powder rather than chocolate baking bars. Those can be so fussy. Semi-sweet vs bittersweet. Melt, then cool. Ugh.
  2. It’s made in a saucepan on a stovetop, with just a whisk. No fancy equipment necessary.
  3. It’s got a glossy sheen like that of a ganache.

That being said, it is a bit high maintenance in one respect: you’ve got to use it right away, and do not dilly dally with the application. It dries fairly quickly and as soon as it does, it becomes difficult to spread. Unlike buttercream which you can spread and tweak all the livelong day.IMG_4569 IMG_4573 IMG_4587

IMG_4590IMG_4593IMG_4591

It’s also reminiscent of the Entenmann’s chocolate fudge cake I used to have as an afterschool snack – pretty much every day of my childhood. Yup. Silky texture, rich chocolate flavor. If you’re making dessert for chocoholics, there’s no going wrong with this combo.IMG_4595 IMG_4597  IMG_4604

For the decorations I stuck to my handy dandy ziploc bags with a hole cut at the end. Really fancy equipment over here at Kitchen3N!

Red Velvet Cake recipe barely adapted from NYT Cooking.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder (I used natural cocoa powder since it’s more acidic and would react well with the buttermilk/vinegar)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp red food coloring (if using the gel, traditional food coloring use 2 tbsps)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 8 oz packages cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups confectioners sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour, or butter and apply parchment paper to two 9 in round cake pans. Set aside.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda into a bowl.
  3. Beat butter with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer for about 2 minutes on medium-low speed. Add sugar and beat for 1 minute more. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Reduce speed on mixer to low and add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla extract and food coloring. Next add 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Then add 1/2 cup buttermilk. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Then add vinegar to the buttermilk and add to the batter. Add final 1/3 of dry ingredients. Use a spatula to give it one final mix.
  4. Divide evenly between the two cake pans and cook until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (20 to 25 min).
  5. After taking it out of the oven, let it cool until the pans are ready to handle. Loosen the sides with a spatula or knife, going under the cake a bit on all sides to loosen. Then place one hand on top of the cake, flip it out onto your hand, then set it down on the wire rack to cool completely (one of my first baking follies as a kid was to apply frosting to a cake I just pulled out of the oven…). Remove parchment paper.
  6. Make the frosting: whip cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes). Add vanilla. Decrease speed to low and add confectioners sugar one at time. Taste for desired sweetness/flavor. Adjust as necessary.

Mustard and Chili Mashed Potatoes and a Giveaway!

IMG_4482There’s a lot going on in today’s post. IMG_4449Firstly, we’re talking vegetable peelers and a giveaway! My good friend’s husband has started a company selling premium kitchen products, with their first being this awesome curved Japanese blade vegetable peeler! Using mine was a breeze – the sharp blade made for smooth cuts and the design definitely required less pressure from the hand doing the peeling. The sprout remover on either side helped get those little “eyes” out. I tackled these buds in no time. I will say, though, if you are used to the vertical peelers, it may take some getting used to. But as with any sharp edge, take care to curl the fingers of your supporting hand away while using!IMG_4453Because this is such a great product and think you guys would love it, too, we are giving one away! To enter, simply comment on my FB page responding to this question: What’s the first thing you would use ChefBasix Vegetable Peeler for? Good luck!IMG_4448IMG_4454IMG_4459Secondly, we’re talking about ghee – clarified butter that South Asians use to cook (some dishes) with. It doesn’t have the milk solids of butter, so it has a higher burning temperature. This picture shows how it happens. After melting the butter over low heat, you keep it on until it attains this golden color, not the amber color you would look for while making browned butter. We are just looking for the milk solids in the butter to toast up to give the ghee a nice nutty flavor. You don’t want to get to that light brown stage, otherwise you will lose too much moisture. Once you’ve gotten the right color, take it off the heat. You can let it cool in the pot, but I poured it into this bowl to show you what was going on. The milk solids sink to the bottom so you only spoon off the fluid on top. Left to cool long enough it will congeal and resemble the store bought ghee. This last step is not totally necessary in today’s dish, as we are not cooking with the ghee. It’s more for aesthetic purposes so you don’t have bits of brown running through the mashed potatoes (don’t toss it, though! spoon it over toast for a snack!).   IMG_4460 IMG_4465Finally, we are talking about aloo bhorta (mashed potatoes)! It seems like potatoes are a universal comfort food. When coming back from a family trip, or on days when we were low on groceries, dinner looked like this: steamed rice, aloo bhorta, an omelette and daal. South Asian immigrant parents have an almost militant attitude toward eating out. Take out was a non-existent concept. As newcomers, our parents had to reign with frugality. Though we were brats about it and whined about wanting pizza or burgers, our parents did the hard work of making every single meal from scratch. The aloo bhorta and omelette were studded with pieces of raw onion and slivers of green chilis. Most of my time during those meals were spent picking out the aforementioned bits to get to the good stuff. I was never a part of the set-my-mouth-ablaze-to-enjoy-my-meal set. IMG_4466So now, since I’m in charge of my kitchen, I’ve started to substitute scallion for the raw onion and dried red chili for the fruity spice of the green chili (or Thai chili as it’s known to some). The dried red chili still has some heat – just not as explosive as its green counterpart.

Traditionally, the potatoes are mixed by hand with mustard oil, salt, the onions and chilis. Individuals will later add as much or as little ghee atop the potatoes as they like to their portion. However, my many years of making and eating American style mashed potatoes would not allow me to serve a butter-barren bowl of spuds. It just needs the silkiness that butter imparts! IMG_4470Definitely mix by hands to achieve the full effect. I wore gloves, though, to protect my eczema prone hands from the heat. Though these are mustard and chili mashed potatoes, the mustard that’s used is in the form of oil, rather than the paste. I’ve never made it with the paste, but if you have trouble locating mustard oil, definitely feel free to use the powder or paste (starting with a 1/2 tsp and working your way up).

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 tbsps mustard oil
  • 1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
  • 3 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 2 dried chilis (3 if you like it HOT)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Carefully lower the potatoes in and let cook for about 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.
  2. While the potatoes cook, add the butter to a small saucepan and cook over low heat until melted and the butter becomes golden and fragrant. Turn off the heat and let cool.
  3. In a dry non stick skillet or cast iron skillet, toast the chilis over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes. You should see the oil on the surface and the aroma emerge. Set aside.
  4. Add the cooked potatoes to a large bowl. Season with mustard oil and salt. Mash together with a potato masher. Add the scallions, chilis, and 4 tbsps of the clarified butter. Mix by hand, using your fingertips to break apart the chilis, until everything is uniformly distributed. Taste to see if the seasoning is just right. Serve with an extra dollop of the clarified butter.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

IMG_4519I gave into peer pressure, guys. When the first ramps popped up in my instagram feed, I rushed to the Union Square Green Market to pick some up. Not too long after, I picked up some rhubarb without much idea about what I was going to do with it. I am all about eating seasonal foods, local, humane, natural, sustainable, etc. But sometimes the thing that’s in season isn’t exactly worth all the hype. Ramps are great and all. If you are less familiar with them, they are a green leafy vegetable available for a few short weeks in spring. They are sold leaves, stalk, bulb and all and have a lovely mild onion flavor. I loved them first time I used them, as a topping on my homemade pizza. More recently, I chopped them up and stewed them with some tomatoes. I even bought a ramp pesto that works wonders on a tomato mozzarella panino.

IMG_4486But I thought part of the point of seasonal foods was that they would be a bit more affordable? Because of their limited availability these items can be incredibly marked up. I vow for next year (and for later on this year), to wait until the end of a crop’s season to buy them. After the hype dies down, so does the price. And that, my friends, is how I internalize Supply and Demand (take that AP Microeconomics). IMG_4488I’m not posting an original recipe here today. I worked off a Smitten Kitchen recipe and am sharing my experience as a novice in hand pie assembly. This is after all a Web-Log. I am logging my forays into new foods and techniques.  IMG_4489Observation 1: Mamma mia that’s a lot of butter. 3 sticks. That’s an amount usually reserved for Ina’s Pecan Bars or the frosting for a 2 layer cake.

Observation 2: It was a pleasant salty, tangy, sweet and savory flavor experience. I thought the tartness of the rhubarb would be off-putting, but it worked well with the buttery-ness of the crust. I am so used to inundating my tart fruits with sugar (see Lemon Yogurt Cake) that my aging palette appreciated the change of pace. I actually misread the recipe and used 1/4 cup sugar for the filling as opposed to 1/3 cup. Oops. I did, however, intentionally add 1/4 tsp of salt. I ALWAYS need plenty of salt on my tangy fruits.

Observation 3: Make sure you have a good stainless steel saucepan to make this compote in. You have to leave it in the pot for 15 minutes, covered, so it is essential that it doesn’t stick to the sides or bottom. Do not try this on your Mother’s or Mother In Law’s 100 year old Imusa pot. Next time I might try it with black pepper or balsamic vinegar added to the fruit compote. Mmmm….IMG_4490IMG_4511I got to use my pastry blender for the first time. Or as my kids like to call it, The Monster. I had to resort to my salad bowl for mixing. You need a nice, big, wide bowl to work the dough in.  IMG_4514Although I regretted not making this with store bought pie dough (because of the million other things I had to do that in preparation for our weekend beach getaway), I can comfort myself by saying that a store bought pie dough would not have been made special with buttermilk and grapefruit zest. Small comforts when you’ve got fried chicken grease splattered all over your kitchen, a cold dough to work until flat, and a suitcase that just won’t pack itself!IMG_4516Pardon my cutting board’s appearance. It’s close to retirement.IMG_4517I think I should have gotten them thinner than I did. The directions were to roll to 1/8 of an inch but this was the best I could do. Is it ghetto to roll out your dough on a cutting board rather than the counter? I don’t trust myself to clean the counter well enough to roll out dough onto it. Maybe it’s a desi thing. And given my limited counter space, I wouldn’t gain a whole lot by nixing the board. IMG_4524Directions also stated a cooking time of 15 to 20 minutes. I needed to go a bit beyond the the 20 to ensure a nice golden color on my hand pies. IMG_4529Enjoy the season, folks, and all that it has to offer (but maybe wait a week or two ;)).

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange or grapefruit zest
  • 1 1/2 tbsps granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • 3 cups chopped rhubarb and strawberries (I used two cups rhubarb, one cup strawberries. Cut off the leaves and any tough parts of the rhubarb)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are, but if you’re using all rhubarb, go with 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg

Directions

  1. Make the dough: mix the flour, citrus zest, sugar and salt in a large bowl with a whisk. Add the butter and work with a pastry blender, fork or your fingers until you have pea sized bits of flour encrusted butter running throughout. Then, slowly add the buttermilk and mix with a spatula or wooden spoon to incorporate. When all the buttermilk has been added, knead a few times with your hand to get it in the shape of the ball. Divide the ball in four and flatten each into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Make the filling: combine the fruit, sugar, and salt in a medium to large stainless steel saucepan. Turn on the heat to medium low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. You don’t need to stir during this time. Enough liquid emerges from the fruit to self baste. After the 15 minutes are up, uncover and cook for an additional 15 minutes at medium low. Stir occasionally to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom, particularly towards the end. After these 15 minutes are up, pour onto a plate to let cool.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Generously flour your surface and rolling pin. Roll out one of the disks until 1/8 of an inch thick. Do this with a swift back and forth motion, rotate the dough 45 degrees, then repeat until it is sufficiently thin. Take your time with this, young Jedi. Trim off the edges with a pizza cutter or sharp knife and cut to make 4 squares or rectangles. In a small bowl, beat the egg with a dash of water. Brush two of the squares with the egg wash. These will be the bottoms (hehe). Spoon a teaspoon of the cooled fruit compote onto the two squares. Place the adjacent squares a top the squares with filling, pulling a bit to ensure the edges line up. Crimp the edges with a fork. Brush the top with egg wash and cut a slit to let the steam out while they are in the oven. Place the two completed hand pies on a baking sheet and sprinkle the tops generously with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes. While those bake, work on rolling out the next quarter of dough and assemble the next two hand pies in the same fashion. I alternated by sticking the second batch in the oven as soon as it was ready and calculating the extra time required when the first timer went off, but it really browns best when there’s only one baking sheet in the oven at a time. Continue with the rest of the dough. Let cool a few minutes before moving onto a wire rack for complete cooling.

Ridiculously Good Fried Chicken

IMG_3916 If you follow me on instagram (kitchen3n), you’ll notice I went on a little trip recently! I had the opportunity to help organize a company retreat at the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab in UAE (about 2 hours south of Abu Dhabi). It was my first time abroad since having my kids so you can be sure leading up to the trip I juggled feelings of anxiety and excitement…but mostly anxiety. IMG_4979_2 IMG_5032_2 IMG_5073 IMG_5090_2

As difficult as it was leaving the kiddos behind for a whole week, it was so refreshing and rewarding to immerse myself in work, in a new place, with faces that I don’t see often. The food at the resort was fabulous and plentiful. UAE is truly a mix of ethnic groups and it shows in the dining options. Traditional emirati dishes are punctuated by South Asian, Filipino and pan-Arab foods. Some of the most memorable items I had were fresh labne (strained yogurt), congee (chinese rice porridge with dried shrimp and soy sauce), stewed tomatoes, bbq beef short ribs, and mustard (yes – the condiment, a whole grain, fruity, spicy concoction) atop veal chops – ugh, it was heavenly. IMG_3905 

One thing they did not have, was my fried chicken. That, you have to come to Kitchen3N for. My fried chicken is special in that I brine it in a buttermilk, salt and spice mixture that gives it incomparable tenderness and flavor (a nod to smitten kitchen’s buttermilk roast chicken). Then, to make it even more special, the coating it gets before hitting the hot oil is a combination of flour, bread crumbs and even more seasoning. Finally, I finish it in the oven on a wire rack atop a baking sheet because I can never seem to get it cooked throughout without burning the outside when I stick to just the stove top method. Thanks for the idea, Ina.IMG_3908 

I don’t even know why I’m disclosing my secrets. Yes, I want you to have outrageously good fried chicken. No, I’m not opening a restaurant any time soon. I suppose these are good reasons for sharing. IMG_3909

I used to be horrid at fried chicken. I would impatiently put the chicken in before the oil was hot enough. I didn’t bother with the extra step of finishing in the oven so half the pieces would be pink inside. So now, when I make fried chicken, though it is a production with the brining, coating, frying, and baking, it is so worth the end result. I mentioned in earlier posts the immeasurable importance of a candy thermometer (pun!). It is essential in regulating the heat of the oil, as it varies so much from when all the pieces are just placed in, to when they are cooked, to when the pan is empty again in between batches. I kept my oil between 325 and 350 – this is optimal for ensuring the outside doesn’t brown too much.

IMG_3912

Though I wish I could share a no-frills fried chicken recipe with you that didn’t involve more than 2 steps or kitchen gadgets, these were the things that I’ve found to set mediocre fried chicken apart from Ridiculously Good Fried Chicken. These are like Throwdown-with-Bobby-Flay Good Fried Chicken.

IMG_3910

I served mine with some creamy dreamy mashed potatoes. But serve with a side salad if you are watching your carbs ;)

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs chicken legs and thighs, skin on or off
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cloves of garlic, halved
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs (preferably panko)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • vegetable or peanut oil for frying

Directions

  1. Several hours or the night before cooking, combine buttermilk, garlic, paprika, salt and both peppers in a bowl or gallon ziploc bag. Combine well and add the chicken legs and thighs. Let marinate for at least two hours, but better yet at 6-8 hours.
  2. Pour oil into a cast iron skillet or casserole pan so the oil is 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. Turn on the flame and using a candy thermometer inserted into the oil and attached to one side of the pan, bring the heat up to 325 degrees F. This takes about 10 minutes or so over high heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet and set aside. The wire rack is essential here because if you place the chicken directly on the baking sheet, the underside will get soggy.
  4. In a shallow dish combine flour, bread crumbs and remaining seasonings. Carefully take out chicken pieces, shaking off the excess and place into flour/bread crumb mixture. Coat evenly, 3 to 4 pieces depending on the size of  your pan, and carefully lower into the oil. Regulate the heat so it doesn’t go above 350 or below 325. After 5-7 minutes, flip and cook until the other side is golden brown (another 5 minutes or so). Place on the wire rack and continue with the next batch.
  5. When all the pieces are fried and placed on the wire rack over the baking sheet, bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes check one of the thigh pieces for doneness by cutting right through the middle and ensuring that the meat closest to the bone is not pink and the juices run clear. If not done, stick back in the oven for 5 more minutes.

Over the Muffin Top Blueberry Muffins

IMG_3893 I wasn’t planning on posting anything anytime soon. I’ve been swamped with work and caught in a whirlwind of Pre-K applications. If some of you have read my previous posts, you know I had been planning on homeschooling my kids. I felt I could provide them with a much more tailored education than could be provided at a public school – supplementing my kids’ homeschooling with extracurricular activities like soccer or dance classes, for the socialization, discipline, and physical outlet.

IMG_3889  But the extracurricular activities aren’t exactly panning out. My kids (ages 4 and almost 3) have such intense stranger/separation anxiety that they don’t want to participate. That’s not the only thing. As parenting young children evolves, it goes from becoming a physically demanding endeavor to an emotionally taxing one. As my days are less and less filled with diaper changes, bottle prep, washing, rocking to sleep, etc. those pockets of time are increasingly filled with

  • negotiations – how many times can you re-wear the same old tutu? when IS bedtime really?
  • refereeing – who deserves that toy? how do you ask patience of an almost 3 year old when you are running out of it?
  • cleaning up spilled milk/juice/paint – i literally cry over spilled milk

IMG_3897 So, we’ve made the decision to enroll our daughter in Pre-K, and my son, when he is ready, next year, God willing. I think it will be good for me – and by extension, the kids. I’ve found in my conversations with other moms (full time workers, part time workers, and stay at home homeschooling mothers) that mothers who work part time have the best of both worlds. They have an outlet in the form of work – using their intellect, getting tangible rewards, conversing with other adults, etc. Plus, they get to spend a good amount of time with their kids afterschool or whenever. There are obviously exceptions to this. I can’t imagine my previous boss allocating any less time from her profession, or rather, her mission in life, to anything else. On the other end of the spectrum I’ve seen some homeschooling moms who just have it together and are getting it done!  IMG_3900 But until my baby girl starts her long, arduous journey of education, she will continue helping me out in the kitchen. Somehow both kids helped with making these (from sifting the dry ingredients, to scooping batter) and despite it all – they came out decent looking! These started off with good intentions – part whole wheat flour, part almond flour. But ended up getting a sprinkling of butter/brown sugar/cinnamon that – you guessed it – sent them over the muffin top. It’s got that nice sugary crust that bakery style muffins have. Everyone is crazy about brown butter these days and I am, too. But not so much browning butter, then adding it to the batter. I like when the food cooks in the butter (pancakes, toast, you name it), so that the browning happens at the surface, where it can impart a crunch when possible and elevate the whole flavor profile of said food.

Try these crunchy, nutty, fruity, delicious muffins. Recipe adapted from Food.com.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (if you don’t have this, then you can use all purpose flour, but it won’t be the same!)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • half pint of blueberries
  • 1/4 cup butter, diced
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line muffin pan with 18 muffin liners.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda together in a bow. Add the whole wheat flour, almond meal, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Stir with a whisk (if you try to sift the latter 4 ingredients, I’ve found that it just doesn’t pass through the mesh).
  3. In a separate large measuring cup or bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk and vegetable oil. Beat with a fork or whisk until well combined. Add to the dry ingredients, incorporating everything slowly. Take care not to over mix as that will toughen your muffins. Add the blueberries and carefully fold into the batter (you don’t want to mush the berries!).
  4. Using an ice cream scoop, evenly distribute the batter among the muffin pans. In a separate bowl, combine diced butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with your fingers. Dot the tops of each muffin with the butter/brown sugar mixture and bake for 20-30 minutes in preheated oven.